For the third game running West Allotment Celtic were left wondering how they failed to pick up well-deserved points.
Once more they went down by the narrowest of margins, this time to new table toppers Guisborough Town.
Having experienced late heartbreak against Dunston UTS and Morpeth Town in their previous two encounters, Allotment hoped to take something from an in-form Guisborough outfit, unbeaten in 15 games prior to their visit to Whitley Park.
They made it 16n on the bounce thanks to a fine individual effort from Curtis Round six minutes shy of half-time, though they had to withstand a fierce barrage from the hosts in the closing half hour.
The Priorymen, just a point behind leaders West Auckland at the start of play, almost took the lead early doors. Nathan Mulligan, a regular scorer for Chris Hardy’s men, raced onto a defence-splitting pass and looked to slide it across Daniel Mullen. The keeper was beaten, but the bobbling ball never made it over the line, Michael Hall pounding back to clear in the nick of time.
Chay Liddle blazed over soon after as Guisborough made their intentions known with a strong start to the game.
Sean Reid was inches away from responding for Allotment, flinging himself at a Marc Dummett delivery towards the back post but failing to make contact with the ball.
He should have been afforded a greater opportunity from a dead ball situation, the free kick specialist body-checked en route to goal, but the referee’s assistant thought otherwise and the playmaker was controversially booked for going to ground.
When Reid was next brought down in a similar area, it was Dummett who took the set piece, his left boot curling the ball high and wide of the angle.
However, chances remained sparse as Town’s pressing play kept Allotment deep, whilst solid defensive work kept lively Guisborough forward Mulligan on a short leash.
An evenly matched but uneventful encounter sparked into life on the 39th minute, courtesy of a moment of magic from Town winger Curtis Round.
Drifting inside from the left to collect possession, the 19-year-old let fly from 25 yards, the unstoppable shot soaring past Mullen into the back of Allotment’s net.
Going behind galvanised the home side and they twice came close to restoring parity before the interval from one Dummett corner. Mark Fenwick diverted a header towards the top corner, but a blue shirt managed to scramble away from goal. It only got as far as Michael Bell eight yards out, but the midfielder - deputising in midfield in place of the injured David Henderson - had his follow-up blocked at close quarters.
Allotment came out for the second half with a little more intent, probing efforts from Reid and John Pendlebury both on target but comfortably held by visiting keeper Nick Liversedge.
The rangy stopper was beaten all ends up when Fenwick poked an outstretched leg at a through ball, both looking on as it dribbled inches past the far post.
Town were lucky not to be reduced to ten men when Liddle, already on a booking, chopped down number nine Fenwick with a mistimed challenge from behind, the referee choosing to counsel the player at length rather than show him a second yellow.
Regardless, the hosts were steadily gaining the upper hand as the half progressed and they were denied by another goal-line block - albeit one more dubious than the previous two.
Liam Hudson’s tame low cross looked destined for the hands of the waiting Liversedge, but Fenwick’s gutsy slide kept the move alive. It broke to Reid towards the edge of the six-yard area but his shot was deflected away from the net by a Town defender.
He claimed that the ball struck him in the chest, and the referee concurred, leaving the hoops in close attendance feeling aggrieved by the decision.
Ian Dunn planted a free header wide from the corner as Celtic continued to push, but Guisborough demonstrated flashes of their attacking prowess on the break, supplemented by the introduction of top scorer Danny Earl.
And, after impressive full back James Risbrough lifted a shot clear of Mullen’s crossbar, it was the well-travelled forward who could have afforded the Yorkshiremen some much-needed breathing space.
Callum Martin robbed Allotment of possession deep in their own half and squared for Earl inside the box, who expected to ripple the back of the net after turning his man. However, Mullen pulled off a spectacular reflex save, a combination of hands and body somehow keeping out the 28-year-old.
The increasingly frenetic tempo of the game ramped up the ante, Dummett and Martin both picking up yellows after tangling with one another on the deck.
Guisborough were forced further and further back into their own half as Allotment besieged their box, and a Pendlebury drive from the edge of the area was deflected despairingly wide.
The sustained pressure earned Allotment a corner with five minutes remaining - and the hosts thought they had salvaged a deserved point from the set piece until the whistle sounded.
Another fine corner towards the back post saw keeper Liversedge and Celtic’s Tony Lancaster challenge for the aerial ball, the latter jumping high to ultimately bundle home. However, the officials instantly ruled out the header, the diminutive winger adjudged to have fouled his 6ft 4in counterpart, drawing the ire of the Whitley Park bench and faithful alike.
Still the chances kept coming as Allotment poured forward.
Dummett channelled his side’s frustration into a 30-yard drive, Liversedge having to get down low to palm it away.
Substitute Kallum McGlen was then heavily involved in no fewer than three chances, first having a close-range shot frantically blocked by his marker, before inadvertently getting in the way of Liam Hudson’s follow-up.
The latter then failed to make decisive contact with McGlen’s cross towards the near post, before the 21-year-old flighted over the delivery of the day. Waiting at the back post were two Allotment shirts, both unmarked, but it was Pendlebury rather than Bell who attempted to steer it in, instead sending the game’s final chance careering well over.
Defeat was once again hard to take for West Allotment, who toiled across the pitch against another top team, all to no avail.
Paul Stoneman will hope that lady luck smiles upon them a little more when high-flying rivals North Shields come to town next Saturday.