Contentious refereeing decisions played their part in Cumbria as West Allotment Celtic bowed out of the FA Vase in controversial circumstances at the hands of division one side Penrith.
The visitors were the victims of two soft penalty awards – both saved by the impressive Ryan Beal – but two dismissals in the second half consigned Allotment to their fate, going down 4-1 at the World Group Stadium.
The trip across the north west began brightly enough for Paul Stoneman’s men.
After Beal had dealt with a curling Martyn Coleman free kick, it was Celtic who snatched an early lead through a set-piece of their own.
A trademark corner from Marc Dummett found the unmarked Ian Dunn in the box, and the club captain’s goalbound header had too much on it for the covering defender.
Allotment looked to build on their advantage in the opening stages, and could have been two goals to the good within seven minutes.
Penrith could not contain the tricky David Henderson, who jinked his way into the final third before playing in Chris Douglas. The winger was forced wide, but managed to get a shot away, only to be denied by the outstretched boot of keeper Jonny Jamieson.
Just as the away side were pressing home their dominance, they were stung by a lightning quick Penrith counter-attack in the 25th minute.
With too many bodies committed forward for a corner, Allotment were caught out when the ball was cleared. Coleman and Matthew Read worked the ball at pace, affording Cameron Wilson the opportunity to tuck away a tidy finish past the keeper.
The equaliser gave the Blues a much-needed confidence boost, and the hosts soon fashioned two more dangerous shooting opportunities.
Wilson almost doubled his tally, stretching in vain to try and meet a deep Curtis Wood delivery, before Read sliced a half-volley wide from the edge of the area.
Penrith did complete the turnaround ten minutes before half-time as a rare error from Dunn gifted Steven Rigg possession and the prolific midfielder thumped home a 25-yard drive.
It could have been worse for Allotment before the interval, as Michael Bell was harshly adjudged to have tripped his opponent.
Read stepped up to take the penalty, but Beal denied Penrith a third goal with his legs.
Granted a reprieve by their keeper, Celtic went up the other end and should have levelled in the period’s final moments.
A perfectly weighted through ball from Henderson put Lawrence McKenna through on goal, but the striker delayed his shot, allowing a covering defender to make a timely and decisive block.
Despite being behind at half-time, Allotment emerged from the dressing room with a sense of optimism – only for a number of curious decisions from the officials to put paid to any hopes of a victory in Cumbria.
The assistant erroneously believed that centre half Glenn Ford had brought down a Blues attacker with a sliding challenge, and the man in the middle duly concurred.
This time goalscorer Wilson stepped up, but Beal denied Penrith for a second time from 12 yards, flying to his right to parry away the forward’s penalty.
From the rebound, Allotment conceded a free kick out wide only for a melee to break out in the penalty area which resulted in Allotment player-manager seeing red whilst his opponent’s offences went unnoticed and unpunished by the officials.
Celtic were made to pay for the oversight from the resulting free kick as Rigg popped up in the box to head home Penrith’s third goal. With tensions running high, Celtic were soon reduced to nine men.
Michael Bell suffered the same fate as his manager after a late, high challenge on full back Wood.
With a two-man advantage, the Cumbrian’s should have gone on to extend their lead, but the profligate Coleman blazed wide another two chances.
Instead, it was substitute Ricky Faustino who grabbed the hosts’ fourth, applying the finish at the back post.
John Pendlebury, briefly operating on the right wing, almost provided brief respite for Allotment.
Goalkeeper Jamieson sliced an attempted clearance in his own six-yard box, but the full back could not bring the ball under his control before attempting a finish.
At the other end, Penrith could easily have made it five, but the outstanding Beal tipped over Ryan Hall’s accurate strike before throwing himself across the line to push another goalbound effort around the post.
The defeat was not without its controversial moments, with the sending-off of Stoneman ultimately changing the complexion of the game – and, were it not for the goalkeeping heroics of Beal, at least two more harsh goals could have been added to Penrith’s final tally.