West Allotment Celtic survived a second half onslaught from Billingham Synthonia to claim three priceless points against their relegation rivals.
Sean Reid’s thumping follow-up to his own free kick just prior to the hour mark set Allotment on their way, and Liam Hudson made it two with a fine finish against the run of play with 15 minutes left on the clock.
Michael Sweet’s volley for the visitors three minutes later ensured a nervy finish, but the hosts held on to beat the Teessiders for the first time in their last seven meetings.
The game itself was one of just three Northern League ties that went ahead, despite the poor weather throughout the preceding week.
Neither side could forge many clear cut chances on the damp Whitley Park pitch in the earlier stages, free kicks from Synners’ Kris Hughes and Allotment’s Reid not testing the respective keepers, whilst a Kallum McGlen corner had too much pace on it for Michael Bell to head home, the ball looping harmlessly high and wide at speed.
The 100-strong crowd at Blue Flames had to wait until the 25th minute for a clear cut chance to present itself, and it fell the way of Synthonia. A fine diagonal ball from Dan Dillon played in marauding full-back Robert Bettson, the full-back’s low effort deflected behind for a corner.
Within three minutes Allotment would draw first blood. Reid was fouled on the edge of the area by Tommy Marron, and it was the 21-year-old who attempted to fire the resulting free kick goalwards. Charged down by the wall, the ball broke kindly back to Reid who found the gap this time to thump past the unsighted James Briggs.
Allotment continued to probe, particularly down Liam Hudson’s left flank, but would settle for a one-goal advantage at the interval having shaded the first half.
They could also have been one man to the good, Marron’s dangerous elbow on Tony Lancaster unpunished by the officials, both of whom were in close attendance.
The Synners returned with greater attacking intent and could have been level within three minutes of the restart when David Abels found space to turn and shoot in the area, but a fine double-handed parry from Daniel Mullen kept the centre half at bay.
Successive low balls into the area from Tony Lancaster and Jake Kallis briefly threatened to pose a problem for the Synthonia defence, but it was mostly one way traffic, the visitors now the driving force in the game.
The game’s two other full backs were heavily involved, a Matty Osmond strike curling wide before right-sided counterpart Bettson found Hughes again around the area. The wideman’s deft inside flick bought him space to get a shot away, but he found Mullen in fine form again, the former Alnwick stopper blocking it behind.
Just as Synthonia were ramping up the ante, forcing a succession of blocks from the beleaguered Celtic defence, they gifted Allotment a cheap second goal.
Kallis’ long punt forward was intended as a clearance but it slipped under the foot of Abels and directly into the path of Hudson, who raced clean through on goal and clipped the ball high past the stranded Briggs.
Allotment’s relief was short-lived as Synthonia finally made good on their second half threats.
Sweet had been kept relatively quiet for much of the afternoon but he was picked out by a superb looping Osmond delivery, the 20-year-old emphatically drilling his first-time volley low into the back of the net.
The belated goal instigated waves of attack from the visitors, but a ragged Celtic outfit held out, a succession of scrappy blocks and important headers keeping Synthonia from grabbing an equaliser.
There was little that the defence could do when Steven Huggins bent an injury-time free kick over the wall and towards goal, but the superb Mullen got just enough on the ball to tip it onto the crossbar.
The hard-earned result guaranteed back to back victories for Allotment against potential bottom three candidates, increasing the gap between themselves and Celtic Nation – who were defeated 2-0 at Whitley Park a fortnight ago – to nine points.
It may not have been the prettiest of victories in difficult conditions, but they all count, and Celtic can head to Durham City next week in search of a third consecutive win.