Unstoppable Celtic ploughed through the Bower Fold mud to record their seventh straight win against league leaders Emley. Reduced to ten men early in the game the Blues struggled to get to grips with the game but a tactical switch at half time saw then put in an inspired second half performance that will live long in the memory of every Blue's fan present.
Stalybridge got off to the perfect start when Sullivan broke free down the right and pulled the ball back for McNeil to smash past Emley keeper Cuss in the 3rd minute. The lead was short lived as Bambrook equalised in the 7th minute, driving past Ingham after Emley had cut the Celtic defence open. Two minutes later came the turning point of the first half when Sullivan got involved in an altercation which left the Emley player flat out in the mud.
The referee had no option and Celtic were left to play the rest of the game a man short. The rest of the first half belonged to Emley, who looked a class act as they stretched the play, exploiting the acres of space Stalybridge gave them and it came as no surprise when they took the lead. Danny Day headed the rebound into the empty net after Ingham had blocked Bambrook's fierce shot in the 25th minute. For Celtic it was a case of survival till the break as Bambrook and Nazha took every opportunity to get in a shot at goal.
A couple of tame efforts from Steve Jones were all Cuss had to deal with at the other end. As half time approached Celtic were lucky to escape what looked a confident penalty appeal after the referee missed a Blue's defender clearly handling a Emley cross.
After a half-time scuffle between the two managers as the teams left the field, Stalybridge came out for the second half fired up. Jones was sent up front to partner McNeil who'd battled valiantly on his own but to no avail against the Emley back four after Sullivan's departure. Five minutes into the half and the switch paid dividends as Jones bundled home a corner. From then on, the Emley defence that had looked so assured was run ragged.
In the 55th minute, after a pinball-like episode around the Emley goal, Celtic took the lead. Jones, Ward and Parr all saw shots blocked on the line before McNeil claimed his twelfth goal of the season, latching onto the loose ball to volley home. Ten minutes later Celtic, despite being a man short, confirmed their superiority when Crookes headed home a corner.
Andy Scott, who had his best game of the season, and Kevin Parr saw goal-bound shots brilliantly turned away by Cuss as the rampant Celts went in search of a fifth goal and even when they Filson was dismissed for a second bookable offence they always looked like holding out for the victory. Emley went close a couple of times near the end but Ingham was equal to everything that came his way.
The referee is bound to get criticism for showing inconsistency with some of the decisions he made but there can be no arguments about either sending off in what was a bad tempered match. Six goals, two men off, several face to face confrontations, a heavy pitch and a large crowd - superb entertainment!