West Allotment Celtic put the disappointment of the past week behind them when muscling their way to a 2-0 victory at Willington on Wednesday night, courtesy of a Sean Reid brace.
Anticipating a physical encounter, player-manager Paul Stoneman drafted in a host of players better suited to the task, with the returning Liam Hudson and regular Michael Bell utilising their unique strengths on the flanks, and Michael Latimer adding his tenacity to a strong midfield three.
The visitors were first to create half-chances in a frenetic opening ten minutes, David Dormand nodding over a looping header from the edge of the box.
Celtic went one better eight minutes later, taking the lead from a set-piece.
Willington failed to sufficiently clear a Marc Dummett corner, affording Bell the chance to win back possession in the area. The impressive midfielder nudged the ball back towards the waiting Reid, who crashed his low effort beyond keeper Scott Williams.
Having drawn first blood, Allotment could have stunned the hosts with a quick-fire second goal, but Ian Dunn failed to replicate his fine volley at Heaton Stannington, instead lifting his strike well over the crossbar when well-placed to score.
Hudson had little more fortune, skewing a volley of his own wide of goal and the despairing Dormand.
Willington came surging back into the encounter as the game approached the half hour mark, almost levelling with a double salvo of their own.
Mark Foster saw his rising effort rattle Chris Bannon’s crossbar, before the keeper bravely threw himself behind the ball to deny the striker from point-blank range.
Then a low effort from full-back Corey Nicholson was watched wide, whilst at the other end, Hudson was unfortunate to see his turn and shot flash wide of the far post.
Half-time came and went at Hall Lane, and, after a scrappy opening to the second period, Willington could have so easily pegged Allotment back. A deep cross towards the back post found Jamie Clarey with a few yards of space, but Bannon got across his goal quickly, easily holding the forward’s tame stab towards goal.
Celtic stepped up the ante thereafter and spurned two glorious chances to put daylight between themselves and their opponents.
A Dormand effort across goal was poked away by Williams, with the ball evading two attackers that were on hand for an easy tap-in. Misfortune was to blame for the first miss, but the second fell square on the shoulders of Hudson’s profligacy. Lone striker Dormand easily beat full back Shaun Brown and squared for what should have been a simple finish, but the attacking winger put his shot wide when it seemed easier to score.
The County Durham outfit briefly threatened to get back into the game, garnering plenty of possession in Celtic’s half, but persisted in playing high balls into the area which were easily dealt with by the impressive partnership of Glenn Ford and Paul Stoneman.
Even the introduction of rangy forward Daniel Kent failed to change Willington’s fortunes in attack, with the substitute failing to test Bannon with a skyward volley.
Stoneman’s charges, spearheaded by the aerially dominant Bell and tireless ball-winner Latimer, fully deserved to win – and a second Reid goal ensured that all three points would be taken back to North Tyneside.
The 21-year-old and Brown became embroiled in a battle on the floor deep in Willington’s box. The former emerged with possession, dancing past the prone full back and sliding the ball under the keeper.
The home fans – and Brown himself – believed that Reid had stamped on his adversary whilst challenging for the ball, but the referee ignored the spurious appeals, allowing the goal to stand.
As Willington desperately pressed for a way back into the match, Celtic broke at pace; as the ball came across the area, Bell appeared to be caught by the centre half, but the man in the middle turned down the penalty appeals.
Bannon was called into action once more, getting down well to tip a Nicholson drive around the post, whilst winger Adam Sakr’s well-struck chip sailed just past the far post.
The clean sheet was no less than Bannon and his back four deserved, with the indomitable Ford proving to be unbeatable on the night.
Higher up the pitch, Bell won almost every aerial challenge with aplomb, performing admirably in his less accustomed right wing role, whilst recent signing Latimer worked hard alongside Dunn to nullify Willington’s fledgling attacks.
Player-manager Stoneman was delighted with his side’s effort.
“ I’m over the moon. I thought we’d have to mix it with them, which we did,” he said.
“When we had the chance to get it down and play, we did, at the right times. It’s a great away performance.”
With the early season blip well and truly out of the way, West Allotment can look forward to building on the victory when they return to Whitley Park, starting with Stokesley this Saturday.