Reece Noble goes into another challenge at West Allotment Celtic. Photograph: Simon Mears.
For more photos from the match please click here.
Goal scorers - RCA: Larkin (3).
Following last Saturday’s goalless draw at home to Chester-le-Street, Sunderland RCA travelled to West Allotment Celtic - another side in the Division One relegation zone. West Allotment had lost their previous two matches against Chester-le-Street and Shildon to a single goal - so would be looking to bounce back.
RCA made four changes to the side that drew with Chester-le-Street last Saturday. New father Neal Bussey was in goal, Greg Swansbury returned to captain the side, Stephen Callen was back on the left wing, and Colin Larkin returned up front.
The two sides lined up as follows:
West Allotment: Bannon; Pendlebury; Douglas; Dunn (c); Stoneman; Hall; McGlen; Stephenson; Reay; Henderson; Parkinson.
RCA: Bussey; Noble; McGuinness; Preston; Swansbury (c); Hodgson; Butler; Larkin; Callen; Wilson; Cassidy.
The match got under way and it was West Allotment who had the first attack as McGlen made a run down the right wing, tracked by Cassidy, who put the ball out for a corner. The corner was half cleared by Swansbury to the edge of the penalty area, where Pendlebury drove a shot just wide. RCA were on the attack in the eighth minute when Butler made a run and pass to Preston but his cross went out for a goal kick. Two minutes later Stephenson made a run down the West Allotment left and forced a corner which was cleared by the head of Butler. And soon after Stephenson switched the ball to McGlen down the right and his shot was saved by Bussey.
With 15 minutes on the clock, RCA were awarded a free-kick for a foul on Butler. Larkin’s free-kick went straight through to Bannon in the West Allotment goal. Four minutes later and a slick move from RCA as Larkin exchanged quick passes with Wilson before shooting narrowly wide from 20 yards.
Midway through the first half and RCA had a great chance to open the scoring. Larkin on the right pinged in a great cross to Callen, who chested the ball down perfectly, only to blaze the ball over from 12 yards. In the 25th minute some neat play down the West Allotment left resulted in a shot from McGlen going high and wide. Two minutes later a good run and cross by McGuinness was cleared to Swansbury whose dipping shot from fully 35 yards went over the crossbar. In the 28th minute a surging run down the centre by Stephenson was stopped by a strong challenge by Preston and the ball was cleared.
On the half hour mark, Callen made a run down the left and fed the ball in to Larkin, whose shot was saved by Bannon. As half-time approached a lovely run and cross by Cassidy was punched clear by Bannon. In first half stoppage time RCA took the lead - Callen received the ball down the right before squaring to Larkin for a tap-in from six yards.
Half-time: West Allotment Celtic 0 Sunderland RCA 1
The second half began with West Allotment having the first chance when a free-kick from Hall was cleared by McGuinness. In the 51st minute Hall again was in the action with a ball to Parkinson, whose shot was cleared by Noble. One minute later a long ball was flicked on by Callen to Butler but his cross was cleared.
On the hour mark RCA had a great chance to double their lead as Callen brilliantly charged down a Bannon clearance - only for Callen to hit his shot straight back to the goalkeeper. Two minutes later and another slick move by RCA as substitute Davis whipped in a terrific cross which was met by the diving head of Larkin from six yards - just unable to get enough on the ball to direct it towards goal. West Allotment then went straight on the attack as Parkinson received the ball down the left before twisting and turning to force a corner which was cleared by Butler.
Midway through the second half and a good ball down the right from Hodgson found Butler whose cross was blocked for a corner which was cleared. RCA then had a further chance when throw-in found Callen on the right, who picked out Butler but his shot was blocked. In the 69th minute RCA doubled their lead as Larkin was played in on goal and was flattened by Bannon as he attempted to round the goalkeeper. The referee had no hesitation in awarding a penalty - Larkin first picked himself up and then picked his spot.
RCA created further opportunities to increase their lead in the latter stages of the match as first Callen played in Davis who shot just over the crossbar from a good position, and then Larkin played a lovely ball to Davis whose cross was blocked for a corner. In the final minute of the match, and with RCA playing keep-ball, Callen made a good run down the left before playing in Larkin who finished superbly into the far corner for his second hat-trick of the season.
Was this a Vase match? A clinical Colin Larkin hat-trick certainly suggests so! A welcome and deserved win for RCA and a second successive clean sheet. Hopefully something to build on going into the final quarter of the season.
Next up for RCA is Penrith at Meadow Park this coming Tuesday, February 28th.