West Allotment Celtic closed out their 2014-15 campaign with a 3-1 loss to West Auckland, going down to a spirited defeat in front of their home fans at Whitley Park.
What had looked to be a decisive battle at both ends of the table proved to be something of a dead rubber, Allotment having staved off relegation seven days prior, whilst West Auckland were already out of title contention by the time they travelled to Tyneside.
Nevertheless, it was a significant game for the Celtic players and management, financial difficulties rendering many futures uncertain at Blue Flames.
The side, which featured five changes from that which secured safety against Bedlington Terriers the previous weekend, started positively,with mainstays Ian Dunn and John Pendlebury both probing with wayward shots in the opening minutes.
Luke Parkinson was making his first start for the club in their final fixture and looked to make the most of the playing time, probing passes with the outside of his left boot threatening to split the West defence.
One such delivery sent the ball skidding across the box towards Liam Hudson, but the forward - scorer of a hat-trick against the Terriers - could not quite stretch to meet it, poking just wide of Daniel Lowson’s goal.
The striker scuffed at another fine chance in the 20th minute. The beneficiary of a jinking Sean Reid run, Hudson should have hit the target from the edge of the area, instead sending a tame attempt wide of the target.
At the other end, Stephen Skinner’s men were yet to test Ryan Beal, Glenn Ford and the workmanlike Mark Fenwick both putting in solid blocks to deny Craig Ruddy and David Gordon respectively.
Allotment had shaded the first half hour, but West Auckland had belatedly started to make their attacking presence known.
Jonathan Gibson, a handful as the afternoon progressed, screwed one shot harmlessly wide and nodded another chance over the crossbar minutes later.
Having failed to hit the target himself, Gibson instead turned provider on 33 minutes, slotting the ball into the path of Mattie Moffat. The prolific forward, handed the armband for what is likely to be his last game in the yellow shirt, made no mistake when one-on-one with Ryan Beal, sliding the ball into the far corner.
It was harsh on Allotment and could have become much more so within three minutes, Ford’s challenge on winger Gordon preceding vociferous calls for a penalty from the away contingent, but referee Paul Keogh waved away the appeals.
The hosts made the most of it before the half ended, drawing level seven minutes before the interval.
Michael Bell reacted quickest to Parkinson’s low, flat corner, getting across his man to somehow flick the ball over the head of Lowson and the West defenders on the line.
Allotment continued to play positive football after the break, Liam Hudson again going close after beating full back Neil Pattinson out wide only to screw a shot wide with the angle ever narrowing.
Pattinson’s biggest contribution to West’s game was to come in attack rather than defence, his tremendous cross-field ball picking out Gibson almost 50 yards down the pitch. The midfielder held his nerve to loft the ball past the on-rushing Beal, restoring West Auckland’s lead three minutes shy of the hour.
Again, Allotment regrouped and almost hit back instantly, a Reid shot from range comfortably snaffled by Lowson, before Lewis Galpin almost turned a Hudson cross through his own net.
The introduction of Kallum McGlen added further impetus to the attack, and the young winger almost took his tally to five for the season, a green and white shirt again making inroads down the left, though the acute finish was lacking accuracy once more.
McGlen hooked a half-chance wide as Celtic continued to enjoy possession in West Auckland’s half, but any hopes of signing off with a positive result were killed off via a moment of madness at the opposite end of the field.
Under little pressure, keeper Beal attempted to play the ball out to his back four, but instead gifted possession to Ruddy, who could hardly believe his luck. Fifteen yards out, the former Spennymoor Town forward was presented with the simplest of finishes, despite the goalie’s best efforts to make amends for the heinous error.
The season over, West Allotment can take great pride from retaining their Northern League division one status in difficult circumstances.
The club will hope to repeat the feat next year, but their hopes of doing so may depend on this summer’s activities.