A fantastic first-half performance from West Allotment Celtic guaranteed their progression in the Ernest Armstrong Memorial Cup on Wednesday night, at the expense of Division Two rivals Seaham Red Star.
The hosts took control of the Second Round tie at Whitley Park in the first forty-five minutes, with a terrific Liam Hudson goal, a David Dormand header and a Sean Reid free-kick putting Allotment comfortably ahead at the break. Dormand’s second of the afternoon seemed to put the game beyond the Star, but a similar brace from substitute Channon North gave Seaham faint hope of a comeback that, ultimately, never materialised.
Stoneman’s men took the game to the visitors from the off, and two early Dean Lee chances were easily saved and watched wide respectively. Allotment’s wide men had been in devastating form prior to the evening’s game, and looked to stretch Seaham’s back four early on. Liam Hudson squirmed away from Dan Smith and fired a low ball across the box, but the cross lacked an onrushing recipient.
Reid was the first to come close for the home side, as his thunderous drive cleared the crossbar by a matter of inches. Seaham were slow to get into the game, but one of their recent arrivals carved out their best chance of the half. Bulgaria under-21 international Ivan Stoyanov raced clear of John Pendlebury down the right and squared the ball into the area. Attacker Paul Kane met the cross, but his first-time strike cannoned back off the upright.
Offered a stark reminder of the Star’s attacking potential, Allotment hit back, and opened the scoring with one of the goals of the season. Hudson, Lee and Dormand worked the ball forward from the halfway line with precise two-touch passing and slick movement. The latter laid the ball off to the former just inside the area, and Hudson finished with aplomb to cap a fine team move.
If the well-worked opener irritated Star manager Mark Collingwood, an incident at the other end of the field moments later infuriated him further. Stephen Little appeared to catch Chris Goss as he slid for the ball in the area, but the officials contentiously waved away appeals for a penalty.
The decision would prove costly, as Celtic went on to double their lead. A looping corner from set-piece specialist Marc Dummett was met by the head of Dormand, who directed the ball into the back of the net to give Allotment some much-needed breathing space. The forward could have been on the scoresheet again minutes later, with an exquisite Ian Dunn pass playing him in on goal, but the poacher’s well-struck effort clipped the bar before going over.
The hosts had been in a similarly dominant position going into the break on Saturday, only for a Thornaby fightback to catch them cold early in the second half. Any chance of a repeat implosion was seemingly snuffed out on the stroke of half-time with a third goal. Sean Reid won a free-kick thirty yards from goal, going down under the attention of three defenders. The midfielder dusted himself down to take the set-piece himself, and his low strike skidded beneath the wall and beyond Paul McSween, who should have done better with the effort.
With progression all-but assured, Allotment emerged after the interval intent on maintaining their healthy lead. Recent Star signing Michael Coghlan threatened from range throughout the afternoon, and his bending drive briefly worried Aiden Ames before bypassing the crossbar.
However, it was Allotment who would go on to grab the fourth goal of the game within ten minutes of the restart. Hudson tormented former Sunderland full-back Smith throughout the afternoon, and once again beat him all ends up on the right hand side. The attacker’s venomous low cross was blasted in by the inspired Dormand, putting the result beyond reasonable doubt.
Despite the lead looking unassailable, Seaham refused to roll over, and the introduction of rangy forward Channon North gave the Star’s travelling contingent hope of a miraculous comeback. The club’s top scorer made an instant impact, shooting from just inside the area. The covering Reid looked to hack the ball away from danger, but the assistant referee adjudged that the ball had crossed the line.
Allotment attempted to shut up shop, with Chris Douglas and Dean Lee making way for Tony Lancaster and Chris Raffo respectively. The former looked particularly sharp, and his link-up play with Dormand almost gifted the poacher his first hat-trick of the campaign. Dribbling into the area, the Wark winger rolled the ball into the path of Dormand, only for the in-form forward to curl his effort wide with the goal gaping.
Another goal looked to be forthcoming, but the momentum swayed in the visitors’ favour. Coghlan threatened once more, but his goalbound drive was expertly palmed away by Ames. Moments later, the ‘keeper suffered a recurrence of a knee injury when going up for a routine catch, and had to be replaced by final substitute Ryan Beal. North caused problems again at the back, ghosting in behind the back four and flicking the ball towards goal. Beal got behind the effort and should have kept it out, but the ball evaded his grasp and ended up in the back of the net.
A deeper Allotment midfield, lacking the attacking penetration of Lee, struggled to retain possession, and, with the result no longer a foregone conclusion, the match became a relatively scrappy affair. With both sides lacking a genuine attacking outlet, substitute Lancaster continued to look lively, justifying his introduction with some surging runs down the left. First, the winger’s cross-shot drifted just over the bar, before a similarly strong run saw him cut inside his marker and fire wide of goal.
Allotment comfortably held on to secure a 4-2 victory over strong Northern League opponents. Once again, the hosts shone in the first half, playing with confidence and flair in possession. The second-half fightback from Seaham may have given Stoneman cause for concern, but his charges showed the other side of their game, displaying the grit and determination necessary to finish the job.
The evening’s win extended Celtic’s unbeaten run into double figures – which includes a six-game winning streak – and ensures progression into the Third Round of the cup. With a top six finish within their sights, and two trophies still to play for, Allotment’s season continues to go from strength to strength. The side will look to continue their mid-season resurgence with a win at Whickham on Tuesday night.