Dean Lee sends the Cumbrians packing

WEST Allotment Celtic extended their unbeaten run to an impressive seven games, overcoming Whitehaven by a solitary goal on Saturday afternoon. The hosts were the better side in a tight encounter at Whitley Park, and a close-range finish from Dean Lee on the stroke of half-time ultimately proved to be the difference between the two teams.

With Allotment’s trip to North Shields cancelled in midweek due to adverse weather, Paul Stoneman had no fresh fitness concerns within the squad. The player-manager continued his rotation of the two goalkeepers, with Aiden Ames making way for Ryan Beal. Captain Ian Dunn returned to the squad, but had to make do with a place on the bench. Vice-captain John Pendlebury took the armband for the day, returning to right-back in Chris Douglas’ stead.

Whitehaven had edged a 1-0 victory on their own turf in October, and the reverse fixture promised to be a similarly tight affair. Left-back Marc Dummett prevented the visitors from taking an early advantage with a vital clearance in his own area. Thereafter, opportunities were at a premium, owing to some solid defensive work from both sides, but Allotment had the lion’s share of the half-chances.

Despite attacking with a little more purpose than their opponents, Celtic failed to test keeper Stuart Pettitt for most of the half. From a corner kick, the ball evaded Tony Lancaster, but fell kindly to fellow winger Dean Lee, who skewed his strike wide of goal. A Sean Reid shot from 30 yards fizzed over, and a Dummett free-kick similarly cleared the crossbar, as the hosts tentatively searched for an opening goal. The main talking point of the half looked set to be a dangerous studs-up challenge on Lancaster, which the referee deemed to be a legitimate challenge, to the consternation of the home fans.

However, with the half drawing to a close, Allotment grabbed the opening goal of the game in timely fashion. Whitehaven failed to adequately clear a corner, affording Pendlebury the chance to whip the ball towards the back post. Lancaster hooked the ball back across goal, and Lee was there to apply the finish from five yards out, scoring his 19th goal of the season in the process.

After the interval, an emboldened Allotment side began to carve out more chances, and came close to doubling their advantage on three occasions. Lee managed to steer Lancaster’s dangerous square ball into the path of Marc Allen, whose effort from 20 yards bobbled beyond Pettitt’s far post.

The woodwork proceeded to deny the hosts a second goal. A pinpoint Pendlebury delivery found the completely unmarked Reid in the penalty area, but the attacker’s header clipped the top of the bar before going over. Reid then blazed a free-kick wide, and another venomous Allen strike flashed past the post, but the scoreline remained perilously close.

At the other end, Whitehaven failed to muster any meaningful chances, owing to the assured and constant presence of the Allotment back line. Ex-Hartlepool United forward Matt Tymon struggled to compete in the air with stalwart Stoneman, and his feeble header wide was the best that the Cumbrian attackers could muster. The away side’s best attempt on goal came from the Allotment centre-half. The former Blackpool and Halifax stopper rose well to meet a Whitehaven corner, but powered the header towards his own goal, forcing Beal into a smart reflex save to spare his player-manager’s blushes.

Even as the game entered its final throes, Celtic were not unduly troubled, and tenacious work from substitute Liam Hudson kept the away side hemmed in. Hudson thought he had won his side a stonewall penalty in stoppage time, having been felled in the area by an overly physical challenge, but the officials refused to award a spot-kick.

The final whistle sounded moments later, and Allotment were good value for the win. A sturdy rearguard performance and a dogged effort in the heart of midfield effectively shut out the Whitehaven attack. The clean sheet was Celtic’s fourth in seven games, and Stoneman’s side are fast becoming one of the form sides in division two.

First-team coach Paul Hogg was delighted with the narrow victory. “It was a professional performance, probably the performance of the season, from one to 11. They listened to the game plan, and just carried it out. It was spot on.”

Allotment have won their last four games on their own turf, and will hope to turn Whitley Park into a fortress ahead of Wednesday night’s mouth watering League Cup tie against next-door neighbours Team Northumbria.