Next up it is a home game for Celtic as we take on the third of the top three in as many games. Nuneaton Borough are the visitors with a 3pm kick off. Nuneaton are currently second in the league, sixteen points and nine places above Celtic. They have occupied the second spot since the start of the year after storming into second position with an excellent performance in 2005.
2006 has not been as kind to them though. They started the year with a win in five games, losing three games to Redditch, Harrogate and Leigh RMI (all away), and managing two draws, one at home to Stafford, and one away at Hednesford. They have picked up only two wins since then, one at home to Alfreton and one away at Worksop. In addition, they have only lost one other game since that poor start to the year, away at Hyde United. Their last three games have seen them draw all three; the most recent a 2-2 draw at home to Hucknall.
Since the start of the year, their away form has been nowhere near their away form in 2005, and they have picked up one win and two draws, taking five points from a possible twenty-seven. This has allowed Northwich back into the frame for second spot, as they are now only two points behind with two games in hand and a superior goal difference. So Nuneaton will be looking to cement second spot on Saturday with a win over Celtic.
Celtic?s home form has seen us win five league home games on the trot, though, so we?ll certainly have a big say in the outcome of the match. We have dropped only twelve points from a possible thirty-nine points all season at home though, and the automated prediction algorithm is going for a 2-1 win for Celtic. That said, we have not won since our last home game, and have played three times away from home, losing to two of the top three teams on our travels and picking up a draw away at Moor Green.
Scoring at home has not been a problem for Celtic this season, as we have scored in all of our league matches at Bower Fold with ten goals in our last three home matches, conceding just one in reply. We have kept two consecutive clean sheets, the first two at home since the start of the season.
Nuneaton, on the other hand, have got five goals in their last three away matches, conceding just two in reply. All season, they have kept thirteen clean sheets, giving them the second best defensive record in the league, and the current record for the most consecutive clean sheets when they didn?t concede a goal for seven matches on the trot through September and October, ending with the 0-0 draw between ourselves and Nuneaton back at their gaff. They also hold the record for the most number of converted penalties in the league, with seven.
Their top scorer this season has been Gez Murphy, whose twelve goals have put him joint eighth in the golden boot league. Three of his goals have come from the spot, whilst second top scorer, Brian Quailey has netted the other four to take his total tally of goals up to seven. Most of their scoring and conceding is done in the second half, with fourteen goals in the last quarter of an hour, and seven conceded around the seventy minute mark. On average, then, they score 1.2 goals per game away from home (1.6 overall), whilst conceding a mere 0.9 goals per game (both home and away).
Nuneaton have strengthened their forward line by drafting in Scott Rickards, and he is likely to make the starting line-up for Boro? on Saturday. Stuart Whittaker and David Staff will both be having fitness tests ahead of the game, with last Saturday?s postponement against Northwich Victoria giving them a bit of a chance to recuperate from a hamstring strain and an ankle injury respectively.
Against Hucknall in their most recent 2-2 home draw, Nuneaton lined up as:
1. Darren Acton
2. Robert Oddy
3. Michael Love
4. Gary Fitzpatrick
5. Neil Moore
6. Derek Brown
7. Matt Collins
8. Mark Noon
9. Duane Darby
10. Gez Murphy
11. Martin Reeves
In Celtic?s recent 1-0 loss away at Stafford, we lined up as:
1. Paul Pettinger
2. Grant Black
3. Scott Maxfield
4. Mark Barnard
5. Mark Haran
6. Chris Price
7. Steve Garvey
8. Paul Sykes
9. Lee Ellington
10. Gary Kharas
11. Neil Prince
Though we have not won our last two matches away from home, Celtic did give an excellent account of themselves against two teams pushing for automatic promotion. Saturday will see us take on the third in the three teams likely to make that point and we will have to play exceptionally well, but hopefully this time, we will get something out of the game. We need another win to get our season back on track. The play-offs are not out of reach, we are seven points off them, with a game in hand. With eight home games left, winning them all and picking up points in our six remaining away games should see us make it, but as each loss or draw goes by, the chance gets slimmer and slimmer.