A SEAN Reid brace guided West Allotment Celtic to a comfortable 2-0 victory over local rivals North Shields in the first of Good Friday’s Northern League encounters.
The hosts controlled the game in front of a bumper crowd at Whitley Park, and a goal either side of half-time from the converted midfielder gave Allotment an unassailable lead against an out of sorts Robins side.
With a hectic fixture schedule heading into the season finale, Paul Stoneman once again rotated his starting line-up, making six changes to the team that knocked Washington out of the Ernest Memorial League Cup on Wednesday night. The player-manager restored himself to his regular position, and fellow regulars Marc Dummett and Dean Lee also returned to their respective roles. Starts were also handed to Kallum McGlen, Marc Allen and Liam Hudson, as Allotment sought their first league win against top ten opposition this season.
Celtic started positively, with Hudson in the mix from the outset. The powerful forward fired two shots wide of goal, and another two were easily gathered by deputising Shields keeper Sean McCafferty. The visitors offered little in response, with a lofted James Harmison header constituting North Shields’ only notable attempt on goal. Indeed, Allotment were so dominant that they threatened at both ends. Stephen Little’s wayward backpass flew past Ryan Beal, but bobbled wide of the post, much to the relief of the centre-half.
Graham Fenton’s men continued to struggle, and Allotment looked like the only side capable of scoring for the remainder of the half. Reid saw a venomous half-volley deflected over the bar, and Hudson saw another effort on the turn drift agonisingly wide of the far post. Despite their unyielding pressure and dominance in the possession stakes, Allotment failed to test McCafferty, with Hudson and McGlen blazing clear of his crossbar.
With the opening period drawing to a close, Celtic finally grabbed the goal their play deserved on the stroke of half-time. Dean Lee’s initial effort was well blocked, but the rebound fell kindly to the feet of Reid, who made no mistake from within the penalty area.
Fenton sent his charges out early for the second half, but the game continued in much the same vein as the first, with Allotment retaining the upper hand. All too often this season, Celtic have conceded early after the restart, but the side looked keen to avoid an instant setback.
Instead, the hosts doubled their lead – but only at the second time of asking, after a dubious officiating decision threatened to jeopardise the scoreline. A Reid free-kick struck the Shields wall on its way towards goal, with the deflection taking it beyond the reach of McCafferty, only for the referee to instead award a penalty for handball. Despite being denied the advantage moments earlier, Reid regained his composure, and found the same corner from 12 yards out.
Despite making two attacking substitutions, North Shields could not find a way through Allotment’s sterling midfield, with Marc Allen and Ian Dunn dictating the tempo in the middle of the park. Much like in the first half, the away side mustered just one clear-cut chance to get a foothold in the game – and it fell to the more than able feet of top scorer Rob Nolan. The striker beat Little all ends up and moved in for the kill, only to pull his shot wide of goal.
Thereafter, Shields could not beat the well-drilled back four – and could have been three goals behind, were it not for the woodwork. Dangerous winger Kallum McGlen followed up a deflected cross, crashing a thunderous half-volley against the face of the crossbar.
The home team continued to impress the spectators with quality touches and comfortable passages of play, and Lee had a low effort deflected away just past McCafferty’s post.
With the game ebbing away, Shields launched a half-hearted final flurry, but the hosts remained as assured as they had been all afternoon, and Beal was unduly troubled in the Allotment goal for the remainder of the match.
West Allotment were good value for the win and the clean sheet, playing with the kind of maturity and confidence that recently saw them embark upon an 11-game unbeaten run.
Squad players like Allen and McGlen shone in midfield, whilst the work of regular stalwarts Stoneman and Dummett afforded ‘keeper Beal an easy day at the office against his old club.
The victory moves Allotment to within nine points of sixth-placed Shields with games in hand, and, with their self-belief restored, will be looking to make an assault on the top half of the table. It doesn’t get any easier for Celtic on Easter Monday, as they travel to promotion-chasing Morpeth Town for a noon kick-off.