Celtic put in a confused looking display which never the less restricted Runcorn's chances on goal to a minimum. This was mostly down to a well organised defence, it was at the other end where the confusion lay. Bravely Potts had been given a roving role behind the trio of attackers Denham, Black and Eastwood. This attacking line-up could have paid huge dividends, but instead resulted in the forwards getting under each others feet in scoring opportunities.
Kick off was pre-determined due to the demolition of the new stand restricting the crowd mobility, and Celtic started towards the Joe Jackson end. The attacking line up saw German set Potts off on a mazy run that got him to the by-line where he whipped in a dangerous looking cross. Wharton was the most advanced of the Celtic players, but even he could not reach it ahead of McGinn and the keeper, and all three clashed, allowing the ball to roll away.
As Celtic struggled to cope with the new line up, Bowman and McNeil tangled near the half way line, with crumple-legs McNeil going down easily under Bowman's attention. Parle floated the ball into the box, and it looked as though it would sail harmlessly out of play, until McNeil got under it to flick it back into the danger area. With the defence caught flat-footed, Kinney simply slotted it home past Dootson, who could do nothing but helplessly watch.
Despite the congestion up front, Celtic were creating chances, as would be expected with 4 effective strikers on the field! Black was the lay off man, in place of Mayers, and it wasn't long before he was clattered by Tomlinson just outside the box. Potts tried a straightforward curling free kick for a change, and though it cleared the wall, McMillan in the Linnet's goal read it well, and made the collect look comfortable.
At the other end, Bowker intercepted Parle's cross in meant for McNeil at the expense of a corner. Dootson punched Leadbetter's corner well clear, but only as far as Parle, who spread it back out to Leadbetter . Leadbetter probably had more options than he though as he attempted to shoot from a wide angle and saw the poor effort go well wide. Minutes later, Dootson proved his worth when a bad clearance from Bowker put Parle through with a free shot. His first time effort to lift the ball over the advancing Dootson saw Dootson perform a flying block as far as McGinn, who couldn't control the ball under the attention of German, and saw the ball go out of play for a goal kick.
The Runcorn defence had to be on top form with so many attacking options facing them. Eastwood, playing wide left found Denham with an intelligently weighted ball that freed Denham. McGinn, who was generally beaten by Denham every time, recovered well with an excellent tackle to rob the young forward as he went one-on-one with McMillan. A little later saw Wharton put a square ball through to Potts cutting out half of the Runcorn defence. Potts had time to steady himself, but when his shot came, it skimmed over the bar. Denham outstripped McGinn, as Ellis and Tomlinson came across, he snapped off a shot, and with the keeper beaten was disappointed to see it fly just over the bar.
Another wave of Celtic attack soon broke on the shore of the Runcorn defence when Potts danced past Tomlinson and laid off Fitzgerald running in on a diagonal. Odds on betting would have given evens for Fitzgerald slotting that away, but he pulled it to high. A Wharton sliding ball again freed Denham past McGinn, but the defender got enough of a foot on the ball to put it out for a corner. The corner was spread out to German, who's cross into the box turned into a shot that the keeper plucked out from just under the cross bar. After beating McGinn for the umpteenth time, Denham pulled his cross back for Black, who couldn't quite reach it, and McGinn put the ball out for a corner. Potts tried to walk the corner in, and was robbed before he reached the box by McGinn. Eastwood was the next to provide Denham with his opportunity to race past McGinn, this time it took a tremendous save from McMillan to deny the young striker as he tried to blast it past him. The corner came to Eastwood, who gave it back to Potts. There were too many bodies between Potts and goal, so he lifted it to Denham. Denham's instant shot was well tipped around the post by McMillan. This corner was spread out to German, who put a better ball into the box, which Denham tried to scissor kick amid a tangle of Celtic forwards. The shot was weak and an easy catch for McMillan.
When Leadbetter scythed German down, cynically and dangerously, the referee played advantage despite the ball being in the air, and of no advantage to anybody. When it eventually sailed out for a throw on the other side, Leadbetter was booked.
Runcorn's miss of the match came with a few minutes to go before half time. Taking advantage of the congestion in the Runcorn third, Leadbetter robbed Bowman, and raced up field. He took it past Bowker, and freed Price with a ball that took out Pearce. One-on-one with Dootson, Price snapped at his shot and sent it wide and high .
Celtic finished the half strongly, but without teeth. Denham raced past McGinn to the frustration of the defender. At the by-line he pulled a cross back for Black stood on the six yard box. Black should have hurled himself at the cross, but remained rooted to the spot, and the chance was gone. The final shot of the half came from Eastwood. After dancing through Ellis and Lightfoot, his shot when it came was weak, and easily caught.
In the second half, Celtic rearranged themselves up front to try and create extra room. Potts was pinned more to the wing, whilst Black went out wide left, leaving Denham and Eastwood to run through the middle. This could have paid dividends almost immediately, when Potts fed German on the overlap, for the fullback to send in a superb cross to the back post that was met by Black running in, but he headed over. But the miss of the match fell to the normally reliable Eastwood.
Denham skinned McGill and pulled the ball back to Eastwood, unmarked and unhurried. With the keeper out of position, the net should have bulged - but Eastwood sent the ball over the top of the net.
Runcorn almost punished Celtic immediately for that miss. The ball was pumped up field by McMillan for Leadbetter to chase. He reached the ball ahead of Fitzgerald, and whipped in a cross for Kinney. Kinney rose higher than Pearce and brought a fine reaction save from Dootson. It should have been two nil, Dootson kept Celtic in the game.
The expected change came on the hour mark. Denham was replaced by Hooper, whilst Black was replaced by Mayers, returning the team to a one similar to that that had secured 31 points out of 30.
Immediately, Celtic looked more comfortable. As the weather worsened, Celtic came alive. Wharton wriggled free of the attention of Lightfoot and Ellis before scooting in along the by-line, and cutting the ball back for Potts. Potts' shot was blocked as far as Bowman, Bowman's shot was blocked as far as Mayers, Mayers' shot was blocked as far as Fitzgerald, and the winger sent the ball over the bar. Runcorn brought everybody behind the ball, and went for every time wasting trick in the book.
Potts and German interchanged to put German into the box, a good curling shot brought a good save from McMillan. Then Wharton and Fitzgerald interchanged on the other side, allowing Fitzgerald to put a great cross over to Mayers. Mayers through himself at the ball, connecting and it was so narrowly wide, it looked like it was in.
As the game went into the last ten minutes, Celtic looked like the could snatch an unlikely draw out of the jaws of defeat, and maybe even go on to win it. A lax pass from Ellis allowed Eastwood to intercept, his shot through a crowd of defenders was only narrowly wide. Celtic were beginning to wear the paint off the post!
Eastwood with his back to goal saw Fitzgerald steaming into the box. He put a perfect ball onto Fitzgerald's shooting foot, but the winger rattled the post instead of the back of the net. The ball came back to him, and he attempted to lift it into the danger area for Potts, but McGill (relieved by no longer having to track Denham) managed to head clear. Wharton's shot from the edge of the box, as time was running out, produced another fine save from McMillan, and Potts' provided Mayers with a superb low cross that took an even better tackle from Lightfoot to deny Mayers a shooting opportunity.
As Celtic played at top gear, completely dominating the play, Runcorn fell further and further back, unable to escape their own third. Eastwood on the edge of the box, turned and tried a shot that skidded just wide. Moments later in the same position, he laid off Hooper, who tried to lift it into the box. It struck Lightfoot's arm (accidentally) and another chance fizzled out. Eastwood went for the one two with Mayers, but Mayers saw Bowman in a better position, but Bowman's shot was wide. The final effort on goal came from Eastwood just before the whistle. Hooper's fine cross found Eastwood's head, but he couldn't divert it into the net, and it went wide.
Celtic left themselves too much to do after starting the game badly. Though they minimised Runcorn's chances, they could not create clear cut ones of their own until it was too late. The last ten minutes of the game saw Celtic put in two or three times the number of shots they had mustered for the rest of the game, and dominate like they had been unable to for the first 85 minutes. Runcorn, for their part, had harried every ball in the first half, and it wasn't until the hour mark when the substitution was made, that Celtic dominated as they have so many games. But luck was not with the home side, and Runcorn become the second team to take all 6 points of Celtic.
Revenge will be possible a week on Wednesday when the two sides meet again in the semi-final of the President's cup, but before then, Celtic have to overcome the twin hurdles of Gainsborough Trinity and Worksop Town, both of whom are in form teams this season. A better performance will be required to over come these hurdles.