Depleted Celtic grind out Birtley win

West Allotment players celebrate scoring against Birtley Town.
West Allotment players celebrate scoring against Birtley Town.

Despite naming a squad consisting of just 13 players, a dogged West Allotment Celtic saw off promotion candidates Birtley Town 2-1 at Whitley Park on Saturday afternoon.

A perfect storm of injuries, suspensions and work-related absences meant that ten players would miss Birtley’s visit, and that toll soon increased to 11 when goalkeeper Ryan Beal was injured in the warm-up.

Despite the latest setback, Allotment started brightly against the much-fancied Hoops, with Alex Nisbet heading into the side-netting and a Lawrence McKenna strike whistling over the crossbar.

The hosts almost broke the deadlock after just ten minutes, in no small part thanks to slick interplay down the right.

John Pendlebury darted inside before splaying the ball wide to winger Kallum McGlen, whose dangerous delivery was headed wide at the back post by Sean Reid.

The dangerous midfielder soon went one better – and it was all his own doing. The 21-year-old gave three defenders the slip during a surging run towards goal before steadying himself and planting the ball into the far corner.

With player-manager Paul Stoneman looking on from the dugout, Celtic maintained the upper hand and only a brave low stop from Jordan Harkess denied McKenna following a well-executed turn.

At the other end, Bannon had to be on his guard to save and hold onto a shot from Callum Hope, and full back Daniel Halliday skewed well wide, but the visitors were otherwise frustrated by their relentless hosts, who continued to create the lion’s share of the game’s chances.

Another superb cross from the tireless McGlen was not sufficiently dealt with by the back four, but a covering defender did just enough to deflect Chris Douglas’ follow-up behind for a corner.

Birtley had to clear the ball off their own line from the resulting set-piece, before another ball back across the six-yard box proved too awkward for McKenna to turn in.

The lead remained narrow heading into the break, but there was no let-up from Allotment when play resumed, with the injury-stricken side continuing to restrict Birtley’s young guns.

Celtic had to wait patiently for that second goal, and finally got it via a somewhat unlikely source.

David Henderson’s neat square ball found McGlen on the edge of the area and the impressive wide man danced around two markers to stroke the ball past Harkess.

It was the 21-year-old’s first goal for Allotment, having struck every part of the woodwork and missed his fair share of sitters last season, but he delighted the fans and team-mates alike with his vital finish.

Celtic continued to look the most dangerous side in possession, as Douglas saw his effort fly past the angle of the crossbar, but an uncharacteristic error from Ian Dunn handed Birtley a lifeline.

The captain’s untimely slip gifted possession to Paul Bryson’s men, and Hope made no mistake, placing the ball beyond Bannon’s reach.

Fearing a somewhat undeserving comeback, West Allotment went back on the attack and twice came desperately close to killing the game off.

First, the tricky Henderson curled the ball around his marker and the far post, but the best chance fell to Dunn minutes before.

The hard-working midfielder almost got the goal his general play deserved. Receiving the ball in the box following a corner, he slipped as he turned his shot towards goal, but could only look on from the deck as the ball struck the angle of the crossbar and bounced away from his compatriots.

Birtley looked desperate to snatch a point, pumping the ball into the box at every given opportunity, but Allotment – Stephen Little and Roy Gordon in particular – comfortably dealt with the late onslaught, guaranteeing three hard-earned and unexpected points for the gutsy hosts.