Stand-in stopper fails to provide net gain

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West Allotment 2, Crook Town 4

West Allotment surrendered their unbeaten start to the season in frustrating circumstances to Crook Town on Wednesday evening.

Despite creating the better opportunities and commanding the lion’s share of possession, Paul Stoneman and his side eventually succumbed to a 4-2 defeat after twice pegging back their opponents.

Allotment’s preparations for the match had suffered a setback with the loss of their first-team keeper Aiden Ames to a knee injury. With reserve keeper Gareth Powell also unavailable for action, Celtic were forced to recruit Sean Page at short notice to fill in between the sticks.

A Northern Alliance No 1 with Seaton Delaval, the step up to the Northern League appeared to be one which Page struggled with, the match proving a steep learning curve for the stand-in stopper.

Page’s first action was to pick the ball out of the back of the net after 12 minutes. Allotment had looked comfortable in the opening passages and had began the brighter of the two sides, but when the defence failed to stop Kyle Davis from getting his cross away, the ball looped over Page into the far corner to give Crook Town a lead they had scarcely threatened.

Celtic’s response was swift, and Dean Lee should have added to his three league goals when he found himself open six yards from goal, but the winger was only able to fire his effort straight at Barry Poskett in the Crook goal.

Poskett was helpless to deny West Allotment their equaliser, though, as the home side broke downfield from a corner in devastating fashion.

Tony Lancaster was released down the right-hand side and made the most of a two on two by drawing the defenders and slipping in Liam Hudson, whose effort deflected off the despairing dive of Crook’s last defender and spun in over Poskett.

Allotment will have felt the half-time score line of 1-1 would have been the least they deserved, which will have made the second half’s proceedings even more galling for Stoneman’s men.

Having seen Page struggle under the high ball in the first half, Crook’s front man Kevin Devine took it upon himself to test Allotment’s debutant further and in doing so restored the visitors’ lead.

Given space just outside the 18-yard box, Devine floated an effort on goal high towards the top corner and while Page had plenty of time to watch the ball drop from the sky, the keeper couldn’t quite do enough to divert the ball away from under his crossbar.

Once again, the hosts were quick to address the deficit, an offside decision being the only thing preventing Hudson from grabbing his second of the match. It was once again Celtic’s man of the moment Dean Lee who turned up with the goods for his side, netting his fifth goal of the season in all competitions, thanks to a timely deflection.

Sensing that three points were within their grasp, Allotment ploughed forward and Sean Reid came close on two occasions to steering his side into the lead with two powerful headers, the first forcing Poskett into a fine stop before the second cannoned back off the bar.

On a night where little had gone right for Stoneman and his side, it was perhaps to be entirely expected when they were caught on the break by their opponents.

Allotment’s ability to break with pace had produced problems for Crook throughout but had lacked a cutting edge on too many occasions. When Warren Byrne was given a chance to run at a stretched Allotment defence, he showed his counterparts how it should be done by drawing the remaining defenders and prodding through to substitute David Paul who had the simplest of tasks to put his side ahead for the third time.

It was at the third time of asking that Crook finally learnt how to keep hold of their advantage and even managed to consolidate it with a fourth when Steve Little put through his own goal when sliding in to clear Byrne’s low cross.

Allotment will have felt aggrieved by the full-time result, one which, as so often is the case in football, did not tell the whole story of the match. However, time for reflection is short and they will need to pick themselves up quickly for their trip to Ryhope CW on Saturday.