Billingham Synthonia progressed to the preliminary round of the FA Cup at the expense of West Allotment Celtic, running out 4-0 winners at the Glamal Engineering Stadium in a deceptively close encounter.
As expected, Allotment ditched the 4-4-2 formation that contributed to the side’s lacklustre 3-2 defeat at Heaton Stannington in midweek, with the returning Sean Reid taking up his regular role as the attacking focal point in a three man midfield.
With Simon Wilthew, Tony Lancaster and Kallum McGlen all added to the list of absentees, Chris Douglas moved onto the right flank, with John Pendlebury coming back into the side behind him at full back.
The visitors started brightly on an intermittently damp and overcast day, with narrow wingers Douglas and Dean Lee seeing plenty of the ball in the opening exchanges.
The former came desperately close to releasing Lee in on goal, before the latter scooped a half-chance inches over the crossbar.
The division one outfit fired their first warning shot across the bow on 14 minutes. Matty Osmond slipped in behind the back four and slid his effort between Beal and the near post, but the linesman’s flag had already gone up for offside.
The close call encouraged Allotment to put more pressure on Synthonia higher up the pitch - and, in slippery conditions, the tactic almost paid dividends.
Chris Douglas closed down Billingham keeper Tim Griffiths, forcing the stopper to scuff his attempted clearance into the path of Lee. However, the wide man could not benefit from a full 40 yards out, skewing his lob wide of the empty but distant goal.
Celtic were doing a better job of retaining possession, but failed to carve out little more than half-chances.
Conversely, Synthonia were largely operating on the break, but created more opportunities in the process.
Nathan Porritt, dangerous whenever in possession, flashed an effort wide of Beal’s post, but not before centre forward James Magowan had forced the returning keeper into a routine save with an effort on target.
The opening goal was borne of a fast Synthonia counter-attack, with Allotment retreating in sixes and sevens at the back.
For the second time in the game, nobody picked up the drifting Osmond, only this time the fleet-footed midfielder remained onside as he raced onto a deft through ball. Beal rushed out to make a superb point-blank save only for the ball to rebound kindly into the air for Osmond to head home at the second attempt.
Lee and Reid both dragged efforts wide of the post as Celtic searched for a leveller, but could not get the goal that their play deserved before the half-time whistle.
The second half began much in the same fashion as the first, with long-range efforts from Douglas and Pendlebury failing to test Griffiths in the Billingham net.
Nevertheless, Allotment looked the more comfortable of the two sides, enjoying the lion’s share of the ball without threatening in open play.
Indeed, the Tynesiders’ best chance of an equaliser came from set-pieces, and a spurned chance in the 70th minute would prove to be a game-changer. Sean Reid rose well to meet a Douglas corner, but headed agonisingly wide of goal.
Five minutes later, Synthonia took full advantage of the let-off. Breaking down the left, Billingham fed former Middlesbrough prospect Porritt, who delicately chipped over Beal from a narrow angle, with the ball ricocheting in off the far post.
With their FA Cup hopes dangling by a thread, Allotment desperately pressed for a way back into the tie, but were to suffer further misfortune, missing another gilt-edged opportunity before conceding a third.
Glenn Ford looked odds-on to nod home another Douglas delivery from five yards out, only to watch his header fly past the near post.
Once again, Synthonia replied with a goal after five minutes, as substitute Jim Wilson took advantage of a missed interception, darting inside and finishing neatly into the bottom corner.
There was still time for a thoroughly undeserved fourth, even if it was the goal of the afternoon.
Porritt once again displayed flashes of his undoubted talent, pounding after a through ball, holding off the charge of Michael Bell, and delicately chipping the stranded Beal to flatter the hosts.
It was in some respects a case of deja vu for West Allotment, as untimely misses, costly errors and a lack of incisiveness underpinned a second consecutive defeat.
However, Paul Stoneman’s side played some of the day’s better football, dominating the game for large periods.
“It was a much better performance. I thought we played some decent stuff”, admitted the player-manager.
“ I thought matched them all over the place, and then they’ve scored two goals as we’re attacking in the second half, they’ve scored goals on the break, which obviously killed the game off.”
The club’s run in the country’s most prominent knockout competition may have prematurely come to an end, but the player-manager will expect to see more attacking penetration when Allotment return to the Northern League this week.