West Allotment Celtic made it four wins on the bounce on Saturday afternoon, bolstering their position in the promotion places with a fine 3-1 win at Northallerton Town.
The battle for top-flight football next season is hotting up with Jarrow Roofing and Seaham Red Star also in the mix for the two spots beneath leaders North Shields.
A trip to North Yorkshire posed a difficult challenge for Celtic, despite the visitors’ perfect winning record at the Calvert Stadium – only made more trying by the absences of Rob Nolan and Liam Hudson from the match day squad.
The hosts had endured four games without registering a victory prior to Allotment’s visit, and looked keen to rectify matters from the outset, striking the woodwork after just ten minutes. A neat pass down the left reached Chris Burton, who turned inside John Pendlebury and shot towards the top corner only to see the ball clip the top of the crossbar.
Allotment were rattled as much as the woodwork, duly responding by upping the pressure on their opponents.
David Dormand almost broke the deadlock with an improvised header, flicking the ball on with his back to goal only for keeper Ryan Hodgson to backpedal and tip it over.
The visitors’ aerial dominance was evident across the park. Sean Reid lost his marker from a set-piece but nodded his free header off target.
However, it soon paid off. Marc Dummett’s corners have been the source of many a Celtic goal, and another pinpoint delivery towards the back post was headed goalwards by Stephen Little and Town midfielder Martin Butterworth could not prevent the ball from crossing the line.
The passionate crowd were still in fine voice behind the goal, but they were soon silenced by a second Allotment goal within seven minutes.
The impressive Michael Bell had been one of the side’s main outlets in the air and on the deck down the right flank, and he demonstrated just what he could do with the ball at his feet. The 22-year-old drifted inside and flicked an exquisite delivery towards the unmarked Dormand, who did well to generate enough power on his header to take it beyond the goalkeeper.
It could even have been three as half-time approached.
After winning a foul out on the left, Marc Dummett stepped up to take the free kick, and his dipping attempt flashed inches past Hodgson’s near post.
Next to threaten was Sean Reid, Allotment’s 30-goal playmaker causing all sorts of problems in the box with his close control. Juggling through three challenges, the club’s top scorer fashioned a shooting opportunity from a narrow angle, but a Town defender got across to deflect the half-volley out for a corner.
Further back, the defence, led by player-manager Paul Stoneman, was looking as resolute as ever – and it had to be just that to deny the resurgent Yorkshiremen a way back into the match moments before the break.
Former Thornaby man Burton was proving to be ‘Allerton’s main attacking outlet and looked odds on to score when presented with a shooting opportunity just outside the six-yard box. Initially denied by a heroic Stoneman block, the 24-year-old’s second attempt looked destined for the net, but Chris Bannon in the Allotment goal made a superb reflex save with his legs to maintain the two-goal lead before Tony Lancaster nipped in to clear the lingering danger.
The next goal would undoubtedly change the complexion of the game, and Northallerton thought they had scored it soon after the restart.
Burton latched onto a lofted through ball and dinked it past Bannon only for the referee to blow his whistle, adjudging the centre forward to have handled in the build-up.
Thereafter, Allotment continued to look dangerous, rarely letting the hosts settle in possession.
From another Dummett set-piece, Dormand almost doubled his tally, his latest header not quite as accurate as his first half attempts.
An even better chance fell to Bell on the flank, where the intensity of Allotment’s midfield – Ian Dunn pressing hard in particular – led to a clear cut opening.
The midfield marshal made a captain’s block on an attempted Town clearance, the ball breaking perfectly for Bell as a result. Moving into space, Bell took his shot early but could not add to his impressive tally of ten goals, instead pulling his effort wide.
Recent signing Andrew Ramsbottom gave Allotment a stark reminder of the close scoreline, coming within inches of halving the deficit. The full back sent over a looping cross from the right which had too much on it for Town’s attackers, but drifted towards the top corner. The Celtic defence could only look on but it curled away from goal at the final moment, much to the relief of keeper Bannon.
Peter Mulcaster’s men enjoyed a little more possession than they had in the first half, but Allotment still looked the more potent force in attack.
No black and white shirts could stop Reid from moving into the box and beyond his marker as the 21-year-old smashed an effort into the side netting from a narrow angle.
Bell stung the palms of Hodgson with a firm drive before Town wide-man Richard Dacombe unleashed a similar attempt at the other end where Bannon did well to save and hold the shot.
Another winger in the form of Lancaster had been growing in stature as the game went on, causing plenty of problems for returning debutant Ramsbottom.
He first found the space to square for the incoming Dormand, who promptly skewed his shot when well placed to test the keeper.
But his scuff was soon to be forgotten as the goalscorer turned provider for none other than Lancaster.
The hard-working forward drilled the ball across the box from the right channel towards the back post where Lancaster ghosted in to finish, putting the result beyond reasonable doubt.
A frustrated Town upped the ante thereafter, but were somewhat fortunate to enter the final 15 minutes with all 11 men on the pitch.
Substitute Colin Anderson caught Bell high with a late challenge, only receiving a yellow card for his troubles.
Aaron Ramsbottom lashed over as Northallerton sought an unlikely consolation, their waves of attack repelled by the watertight back four.
However, the elder Ramsbottom sibling, similarly making his second debut for the club, would belatedly give the home side something to cheer about.
Handed a free kick 20 yards from goal, the midfielder lifted his effort over the wall and past the static Bannon.
It mattered little as the visitors comfortably held on for another vital away victory.
The win sees Celtic move up into second place, one point clear of fourth-placed Seaham Red Star with two games in hand.
As the promotion race enters its final stages, West Allotment find themselves in a strong position.
With six games left to play, every game becomes a must-win – not least the next game, a trip to Esh Winning on Wednesday evening.