Table-topping Crook Town comfortably defeated West Allotment Celtic 2-0 on Wednesday evening, putting paid to an impressive unbeaten streak and any lingering hope of promotion to Ebac Northern League division one.
Allotment trailed third-placed Jarrow Roofing by seven points going into the game and required maximum points from their remaining three fixtures and favourable results from elsewhere.
However, an early Chris Wallace header and a close range Ian Maddison finish on the hour mark brought Allotment’s unlikely charge up the table to a halt, whilst simultaneously edging the hosts closer to the division two title.
Following Monday’s epic seven-goal extra-time win against Darlington RA, Paul Stoneman chose to rest full back Marc Dummett and midfielder David Henderson, with Chris Douglas and Ian Dunn returning respectively.
Regular right back John Pendlebury filled in alongside Stoneman in the heart of the defence, with winger Tony Lancaster deputising in the deeper role.
With the championship not yet secure, Crook started brightly in front of a bumper crowd at the Tom Cowie Millfield Stadium.
Wallace was the first to attack for the hosts, flashing a shot just wide of Rob Rodgerson’s post in the opening minutes.
At the other end, Allotment almost fashioned a chance of their own as a Dunn header looped towards David Dormand only for keeper Barry Poskett to gather in the area.
Despite threatening to match Crook in the early exchanges, the home side took the lead after ten minutes, and never looked back.
An inviting cross from the byline found the unmarked Wallace in the box and the attacking midfielder flicked his header into the far corner.
The visitors briefly threatened to respond down the right, with Michael Bell and Kallum McGlen combining well before Lancaster lifted a speculative effort over the crossbar.
However, a wary Celtic side struggled to get forward in meaningful numbers, affording Crook more chances to attack Rodgerson’s goal.
The usually free-scoring Black and Ambers failed to test the keeper, with Alex Marshall, Warren Byrne and Richard Hodson all firing wide.
Though under the cosh for much of the half, Allotment could have stolen an equaliser.
Stoneman headed towards Liam Hudson in the box and the striker’s secondary flick would have crossed the line were it not for Chris Pearson’s last-gasp clearance.
The goal would have been against the run of play as the hosts remained very much on top - and could have doubled their lead before the break.
Byrne weaved his way past Lancaster and Pendlebury in the box but sliced his curling shot well wide of goal.
A well-struck Hodson half-volley flew just over the bar as the hosts sought breathing space before the break, but the scoreline remained close at half-time.
The County Durham outfit looked desperate to impress in their last home game of a successful season, and soon had two goals chalked off for different infringements.
First, the ever-dangerous Byrne thought he had doubled the hosts’ advantage, only to look across and see the flag raised for offside, before David Paul was adjudged to have fouled Rodgerson whilst contesting for a high ball.
The second goal was forthcoming, but it was ultimately scored in dubious circumstances.
The referee turned down free kick appeals on the edge of Crook’s area after McGlen was shoved down from behind, but seconds later he penalised Allotment for a near-identical infringement at the other end of the pitch.
Town made the most of their good fortune, putting a well-worked free kick routine into action. Three passes along the floor split apart the unsuspecting defence and Byrne could square the ball across goal for Maddison, who tapped home from four yards out.
To add injury to insult, Hudson found himself on the receiving end of a dangerously late challenge from full back Elliot Woods and had to be carried from the field of play by his team-mates.
With Dormand proving to be Allotment’s only attacking outlet, the visitors could not force their way back into the tie, though not from want of trying.
Dormand looked to be odds-on to score only for Pearson to make another vital intervention.
The lone forward missed a rare shooting opportunity minutes later, striking well wide with his right boot when he may have been better served attempting a shot on his left.
Following a heavily congested fixture list and Monday night’s prolonged cup drama, an understandably fatigued Allotment side did themselves justice, restricting Crook Town to just two goals - one of which remains controversial - and deputising defenders Pendlebury and Lancaster performed admirably at the back.
The win takes Crook within touching distance of the division two trophy, which could be acquired as early as Saturday.
For Allotment, the unlikely promotion dream is over, but the side will be looking to rediscover their best form in time for the Ernest Armstrong Memorial Cup final in mid-May, where they will face North Yorkshire outfit Northallerton Town.