Non League Daily

West Allotment Celtic: digging deep at the bottom

We're hurtling towards the business end of the Northern League season. For the six teams in championship contention, pride - though not promotion - is up for grabs, in addition to a rather nice four-figure cheque writes NLD blogger Craig Dobson.

That nervous excitement at the top of the table can be found down at the other end, with added consequence and long-term stability thrown into the equation for good measure.

With Crook Town officially buried, five more teams are desperately trying to maintain their grasp on top-flight football. With points thinly spread and games in hand aplenty, it might just be a fingernails job for one or two of them.

The competition that waits beneath remains as fierce as ever. The fortunes of Brandon United and Tow Law Town, former champions reduced to scrapping for Northern League survival, serve as a reminder of what can ultimately become of clubs that lose their foothold in the upper division.

West Allotment Celtic are just as aware of that danger as any other side around them, having slipped out of Division One themselves six years ago.

How have they fared second time around? They headed into 2014/15 as one of the favourites to go straight back from whence they came, and, to the team's great credit, they are currently in a position to avoid doing so.

The performances and results have undoubtedly been mixed. Back to back opening wins in a revamped 5-3-2 masked the formation issues which would soon follow, and a reversion to the tried and tested 4-4-1-1 reaped some patchy reward. A sharp upturn in form at the turn of the year continued long into March, assuaging the fears of relegation. Temporarily, at least.

After a courageous 2-0 defeat of Durham City in their artificial back garden, players, fans and committee members exchanged relieved smiles. The results that day had gone in Allotment's favour, and safety seemed within touching distance. A fortnight on, and two cruel results - a last-gasp 3-2 defeat to ten-man Dunston UTS and another late loss to Morpeth Town - coupled with unlikely results elsewhere had shifted the balance of power back to the feet of our competitors.

With April on the horizon, Allotment stand on the precipice, Sunderland RCA and Billingham Synthonia breathing down their necks. The last three games do not bode well for Stona's charges, who were at sixes and sevens at the back, conceding four at Ashington and three against both Benfield and Shildon.

Equally worrying, they averaged one clear cut chance per game going forward. It's hardly survival form heading into the final five defining games of the campaign.

However, there are plenty of reasons to be hopeful at Whitley Park; for starters, four of those five remaining matches will be taking place there. Whitley Bay, Bedlington Terriers, Durham City and West Auckland will be the visiting opponents, the manager targeting the first and third games as must-wins.

To do that, they will need goals, and might just have an ace in the hole - or, rather, up top. Marc Walton has returned to his old stamping ground, aiming to fire his old club away from danger. 'Wally' has just the one goal in five starts, tucked away from the spot at Bishop Auckland, but there have been flashes of his finishing prowess in recent weeks. Getting the ball in to the 28-year-old's feet may be the difference between two teams on the day and two divisions next year.

It remains a tough run-in - though Synthonia arguably have it tougher - and Allotment will have to recapture some of their recent spirit if they are to pull through. At their confident best, Celtic are a match for most in the division, as West Auckland found out on a bitter December evening.

The title contenders will be the last to visit Blue Flames this season, the Northern League drama at both ends potentially dovetailing on the final day. Should the respective possibilities remain open, nerves will be jangling amongst both sets of supporters. With a little luck and a touch of quality, Allotment might just have dug themselves out of the mire by then.

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