On Saturday, there is a welcome return to football when Celtic host Ashton United with a 3pm kick off. Ashton are doing better than everybody?s expectations this season with a number of notable caps to their name, including a 2-1 win at Southport and a 3-2 win at home to Harrogate.
They?ve also beaten Runcorn and Worcester at home. Away, apart from Southport, they have not had as much success this season, leaving them low in the table (but higher than Celtic!). Losses to Moor Green, Lancaster and Nuneaton on their travels, plus three draws have resulted in a points haul of 15. This is 6 more than Celtic. A win for Ashton could push them as high as 12th, whilst a win for Celtic could pull them out of the relegation zone and halve the gap between Ashton and Celtic.
There have only been a few previous meetings between the clubs, with Ashton definitely on top in them. Celtic have won one, whilst Ashton have won two, and there have been two draws. Most recently, Ashton dumped us out of the President?s cup after Ross Clegg scored a last second equalising own-goal and Ashton went on to win in extra time.
Ashton have gained a reputation of something of a first half team, and they scored all five of their goals in the 5-4 win over Runcorn in the first 40 minutes! All bar two of their thirteen goals this season have been in the first half, whilst 13 of their 20 goals conceded have been in the second half.
Ashton?s top scorers, Josh Mitten (6) and Paul Garvey (4) are responsible for the two second half goals, but neither score particularly heavily away from home. Indeed, Ashton have only scored 4 goals away from home this season, which makes 0.7 goals per game, whilst conceding 1.3 goals per game. Possibly because of this, they have not won away from home since beating Southport way back in August. The strikers could not help Ashton as Burscough knocked them out of the FA cup beating them 3-0, but Ashton bounced back with plenty of goals in a 6-4 win over Flixton. The number of goals scored by the lower league team hopefully indicates a weakness in defence that Celtic can exploit.
Celtic have not kicked a ball in anger since the 2-0 defeat away at Kettering, thanks to the weather in Leek. That defeat was Celtic?s third on the trot. Just looking at home games, Celtic lost their last one (Bradford) and won the previous one (Vauxhall). Celtic also have the enviable statistic of scoring in every home game so far this season. We have the less enviable statistic of conceding in every home game this season as well, though. On average, we score 1.5 goals at home, but concede 2.2, which goes someway to explaining our propping up of the table.
Also worryingly, in the league, our top four goal scorers are all midfielders, with Eastwood and Hayward struggling in 5th and 6th with a goal each.
We concede quite heavily in the first half with 13 of the 21 goals conceded coming in this period, but we can score at any point in the game. Knowing that Ashton struggle in the second period, a defensive first half performance is obviously required to halt the flood of Ashton?s front line, moving to a more attacking line-up in the second half.
Defender, Darren Royle, has recently been loaned out to Radcliffe borough so he won?t be taking part this time.
Ashton team news is a little patchy, but I?ll go out on a limb and say:
1. Danny Trueman
2. Andy Thackery
3. Danny White
4. Lincoln Adams
5. Peter Carty
6. Dean Johnson
7. Craig Fleury
8. Martin Allison
9. Jamie Miller
10. Josh Mitton
11. Nicky Clee
With injuries only to Chris Denham and Gregg Pearce, Celtic may line up as follows:
1. Craig Dootson
2. Dave German
3. Danny Caldecott
4. Paul Sykes
5. Barrie Keeling
6. Nathan Wharton
7. Ben Smith
8. Kev Parr
9. Andy Hayward
10. Phil Eastwood
11. Steve Smith
?Smudge? will be lining up against his old club, and will have something to prove, I?m sure. Having had plenty of rest and practice, hopefully Wragg can have moulded them into a cohesive unit that Ashton will find a much more difficult prospect than the previous teams Celtic have faced this season.
A win would have two benefits, moving Celtic up the table (depending on results) and giving much needed confidence ahead of the FA cup tie on Monday/Wednesday (delete as applicable).