This weekend?s opponents are Nuneaton Borough. After a mid-season dip, Nuneaton have come back stronger and surged back up the table with some good wins. They currently lie in fourth, seventeen places and twenty-four points above Celtic, in the play-off places, with promotion dreams.
In their last outing Altrincham held them to an entertaining 0-0 draw at home. Last time on the road they put two past a managerless Worcester City.
In recent matches they have lost once away at Kettering and won away at Hucknall and Worcester. They beat Worcester at home, too, as well as Vauxhall in a profitable festive fixture list. Just before Christmas, life was not as rosy, with defeats at the hands of Southport (home) and Hinckley (away). In three of their past three wins, Stuart Whittaker has been on the score sheet, suggesting he is the striker in form.
Indeed, he is Nuneaton?s top scorer with seven league goals, with Avun Jephcott and Gez Murphy hanging on his coat-tails with five apiece. Most of Whittaker?s goals have come in the last ten minutes, and it is the second half where Nuneaton get most of their goals, with a full two thirds scored in this period. They must be used to quiet first halves because they concede most in the second half as well, with just over half conceded in this period.
On average, away from home, they score 1.5 goals per game, and concede 1.4. This suggests, accurately, that they have won more games away from home than they have lost. They have taken all six points of Worcester and Moor Green, and taken three points off us already this season when we visited Nuneaton back in December. Further into the past we met in our brief spell in the Conference back in the 2001/2002 season. Honours were shared that time with an Ayorinde brace securing three points at Bower Fold.
Celtic are unbeaten in two games now, which is a vast improvement over the last two times the sides met. Indeed, Dave Miller was still in charge back then. Our last home game was a 2-2 draw with Gainsborough, and prior to that we?d lost three home games on the trot, getting two away victories sandwiched in between them. With mostly home games left this season, it is our home form that needs improving if we are to perform the great escape. The signs are promising, with January being our best month by far so far this season. Taken in isolation, we would be fifth.
We?ve taken six points off only Vauxhall this season, with Barrow, Harrogate and Southport all taking six points off us.
Andy Hayward and Nathan Wharton are joint league top scorers, with five apiece, with Ben Smith and Paul Sykes coming in next with three apiece. Most of our scoring is done in the first half, but conceding wise, we?re equally sieve-like in both halves, though half an hour and the last ten minutes are quite poor, with twenty goals scored against us in these two periods. At home we score an average of 1.5 and concede 2.4 goals per game.
Nuneaton have no injuries and one new signing ahead of the game, midfielder Scott Goodwin has joined the Boro. Last time out (at home to Altrincham) they lined up as:
1. Darren Acton
2. Robert Oddy
3. Michael Love
4. Brian McGorry
5. Neil Moore
6. Gavin Cowen
7. Matty Collins
8. Mark Noon
9. Kevin Wilkinson
10. Michael Frew
11. Stuart Whittaker
Celtic will still be without the services of Chris Denham, Kevin Parr and Danny Caldecott, though Captain Kev is due back any time now. Against Gainsborough we lined up as:
1. Craig Dootson
2. Grant Black
3. Tony Whealing
4. Barrie Keeling
5. Paul Sykes
6. Nathan Wharton
7. Ben Smith
8. Scott Bonsall
9. Andy Hayward
10. Phil Hadland
11. Steve Smith
This is yet another cup final for Celtic, and despite the odds stacked up against them, it is one that they can win. A good solid defensive performance will be needed against a big strong Nuneaton front line. It was a header scored by Noon in the last match that tipped the balance in their favour in a fairly equal encounter. A win could lift us level on points with Ashton, and if the results go well, above them on goal difference, with them playing at Hinckley, this is not beyond the realms of possibility. And if the gods are really smiling, we will be a mere two points behind Vauxhall (who entertain Bradford in their own must win game). All this will be academic without a win though.