West Allotment Celtic undid much of their fine midweek work at Woodhorn Lane on Saturday afternoon, where hosts Ashington ran out comfortable 4-0 winners.
Both sides are struggling at the wrong end of the table, but unexpectedly positive results in midweek – a 1-0 win for Allotment at Bishop Auckland on Tuesday night and a thrilling 4-3 victory for the Colliers at title-chasing Shildon on Wednesday – saw both sides head into their crunch clash in buoyant mood.
Paul Stoneman’s unchanged side were looking to take another positive result back to Tyneside with them four days later, but early hopes were dashed as early as the second minute when Ashington drew first blood. Allotment’s defence were flat-footed as James Harmison headed the ball into the path of Tony Stephenson, who drilled past Ryan Beal to give the home side an early lead.
Allotment looked rattled by Ashington’s early strike and struggled to establish any rhythm going forward, keen pressure from the hosts contributing to a number of astray passes and breakdowns going past halfway. For their part, the black and whites should have doubled the lead when Andy Johnson, a constant danger on the left, whipped a deft ball onto the head of James Loughborough. The midfielder, though completely unmarked, guided it over the crossbar, sparing further blushes at the back.
Lance McGlen squandered another good opportunity, ballooning over after a deft one-two with Dylan Williamson down the right. Johnson went far closer when he pulled away from Allotment’s rearguard, shooting across goal from a wide angle. Beal was beaten, but the ball struck the bottom of the post before being cleared by a covering defender.
The little joy that Allotment were getting came down their right flank, Michael Bell consistently getting the better of full-back Kyle Oliver, but three of his probing crosses were dealt with by Harmison and Wayne Buchanan.
Marc Walton, Allotment’s recent signing from the Colliers, had opened his account from the spot against Bishops on Tuesday night, and was desperate to get on the scoresheet against his old employers. He could only tamely hook a Stoneman header into the hands of Conor Grant from a corner, but the ‘keeper was well beaten by his old teammate seven minutes later. With the game approaching half-time, the 27-year-old twisted and turned in the box, finding enough space to unleash a rasping effort that flew inches over the Ashington crossbar.
Just as Allotment were belatedly beginning to find a foothold in the game, Ashington struck again. Johnson was the architect, another fine sweeping cross-field ball finding winged counterpart Williamson in acres of space. The midfielder allowed the ball to bounce before thrashing a fine half-volley high into the net, affording his side a welcoming and deserved cushion heading into the break.
When play resumed, Allotment looked a little more sure of themselves going forward, and their bright start was so nearly rewarded with a way back into the game. Sean Reid managed to shrug off the grasping attentions of his marker in the box, feeding the ball back towards Kallum McGlen. Eighteen yards out, the winger drove his first-time effort low towards goal, only to suffer the same fate as Johnson earlier, the ball cannoning off the woodwork and away from danger.
David Henderson saw a shot deflected behind for a corner as Allotment endeavoured to halve the deficit, bringing on both Michael Hall and Liam Hudson to facilitate a prospective revival, but within moments of their introduction, a third Colliers goal in the 67th minute killed the game off. The roles of scorer and provider were reversed this time, Williamson streaking away down the right and crossing for Johnson, who slid home at the back post to all but wrap up victory for Steve Harmison’s side.
Stephenson should have doubled his tally just three minutes later as a ragged Allotment failed to pick him up. Racing through on goal, the forward rounded Ryan Beal, but Jake Kallis did exceptionally well to recover, the sliding tackle poking the ball out for a corner when the number nine looked to pull the trigger.
However, the Colliers fans in attendance were soon cheering a fourth for their side, and it was arguably the pick of the bunch, a thumping strike from all of twenty-five yards whistling into the back of the net. It could so easily have been four, Williamson’s failed chip straight at Beal before a Hall block denied Giles another goal.
Though Allotment rallied in the final five, they scarcely looked like grabbing a consolation goal, Ashington well worth the three points and their four goals. The disappointing performance keeps Allotment firmly within the relegation mire, just four points clear of Sunderland RCA, current occupants of that final spot in the drop zone.
A performance more akin to that of the previous two games will be required if Allotment are to take anything from the in-form Newcastle Benfield on Wednesday evening.