It is Celtic?s longest trip of the season so far on Saturday as we head south to face Salisbury City in the FA Trophy (kick-off 3pm). Salisbury might be in the league below Celtic, but with their home record, Celtic will be seen as the underdogs in this dog-fight.
Salisbury top the Southern Premier League by one point over Chippenham Town, though they have two games in hand over their rivals, and almost certain to be promoted into the Conference South at the end of this season. Until recently, their home record was something to behold, having conceded three goals at home across all competitions, and sixteen goals overall. This however changed last Saturday when mid-table Team Bath visited The Whites, and came away with a 1-0 win, scoring late on.
That loss ended a run of eleven straight wins, and only one goal conceded. It also ended nearly seven hundred minutes of football at home without conceding a goal.
Worse was to come for the league leaders as bottom-third club Cirencester visited in the League Cup and beat Salisbury 4-3, reversing an early game that had been abandoned due to the pitch becoming unplayable with frost. Hopefully Celtic can further add to Salisbury?s misery and add to the goals-against column, which has had an additional five goals added to it. It will still be an incredibly tough game despite Salisbury?s recent set-backs.
Getting to this point in the Trophy saw them start with a 1-1 away draw at Paulton Rovers, winning the replay 3-1. Successive Saturdays saw the Whites beat Clevedon Town and Newport Town 2-1 and 3-0 respectively. Next up for them was Harlow Town, again a home tie, and again they won, this time 1-0. Their last game in the Trophy was a massive game for the Southern Premier League team, taking on Conference big spenders Canvey Island away from the Ray McEnhill stadium. Against the odds, Salisbury came away winners, 1-0 with Alex Haddow latching onto a poor back-pass to snatch an unlikely winner and put Salisbury into the third round for the first time in their history.
They didn?t fair so well in the FA Cup, losing 2-1 away at Merthyr Tydfil in the third Qualifying round, after beating Clevedon and Yate Town away from home.
With seven losses all season, twenty-seven wins and only four draws, Salisbury are having a storming season and will probably still be full of confidence despite their recent two home losses. At home, Salisbury score an average of 2.4 goals per game (1.9 overall), conceding 0.4 goals per game (0.6 overall). They have kept twenty-three clean sheets (out of thirty-eight games), and failed to score in just five. At home, they have kept clean sheets in thirteen out of eighteen games, and until the League cup match recently, had never conceded more than a single goal in a home game.
Celtic would possible have had an easier ride had they drawn Conference opposition!
To boost their front line, which has had some injuries recently, Salisbury have signed Adam Wilde from Weymouth for a 5-figure fee. Their top scorers, Matt Tubbs (with twenty-one goals) and Paul Sales (with fifteen), are both recovering from injury, though they have been available for selection in their last two games. According to reports, Aaron Cook is their man to watch ? the defender is their main reason for keeping so many clean sheets, though Kevin Sawyer in goals has had a hand in it, putting on some great displays.
In their recent 1-0 defeat at home to Team Bath, Salisbury lined up as:
1. Kevin Sawyer
2. Scott Bartlett
3. Jon Beswetherick
4. Aaron Cook
5. Tim Bond
6. Tommy Widdrington
7. Wayne Turk
8. Craig Davis
9. Robbie Matthews
10. Matt Tubbs
11. Alex Haddow
In Celtic?s last game, the 2-1 defeat away at Worksop Town, Celtic lined up as:
1. Paul Pettinger
2. Barrie Keeling
3. Scott Maxfield
4. Mark Barnard
5. Mark Haran
6. Chris Price
7. Steve Garvey
8. Paul Sykes
9. Phil Eastwood
10. Lee Ellington
11. Neil Prince
Salisbury City are patently a good side, a division below their actual ability and Celtic must put in a great performance if we are to be in the hat for the Quarter Finals. Celtic must do without the services of Mark Haran (suspension) and Farrell Kilbane (injured) in the game, further adding to the problems faced.
The game is winnable, but a draw would not be a disaster, with the replay scheduled for Tuesday night ? a trip the Whites would not relish.