Three declined penalty decisions, a goal ignored, unsporting play, the offside rule rewritten by a linesman and a save on the line by a defender made the the worst game in months. The loss is not as sickening as the manner in which it occurred.
The first half was give and take between the two teams, with good approach play from both sides, but the final ball lacked consistency. Pickford was inspirational for the first 45 minutes, dominating the left hand side of the field, and providing the link role for much of what Celtic did achieve. When Cowley was able to get away from Pickford he caused problems for the back four, but failed each time to pick out a yellow shirt in the box with his crosses.
Part of the Runcorn game plan was to take Sullivan out of the game, with three markers onto him as soon as he got the ball, and he rarely got the better of them. McNeil, Pickford and Parr looked most likely Blues players to force an opening, but the clearest opening fell to Price, who should have put Runcorn ahead on 15 minutes when allowed a free header from a corner, Ingham's positioning was superb to deny him.
Unusually, Jones totally miskicked a sitter on the 6 yard line, from a square ball by McNeil, wasting Celtics best chance of the half. Jones later spurned a half chance, when he dragged a shot well wide after McNeil again played him just before half-time. McNeil should have had a penalty when Ellis chopped him down in the box. The ref gave a goal-kick. Surely if he got the ball rather than the man, it would be a corner, or if he didn't get the ball, a penalty!
Second half saw Celtic have more of the play, attacking at every opportunity, with McNeil, Sullivan and Ward providing the crosses, but being headed wide and over by Jones and Parr. The fans (who outnumbered the home support) thought the goal would never come. To top it off, from a throw in, Parr headed down only to see his effort cross the goalline before being cleared. Kev's celebration was short lived, as the linesman said no goal. Twice more Celtic were to be denied penalty appeals. First Sullivan was pushed over two handed, again by Ellis, before Ness made a fine one handed save on the line, after McMillan (the real keeper) had missed it.
Breakthrough came from best move of the game: McNeil and Sullivan exchanged passes on the right, before Sullivan reached the by-line and whipped over a cross which fell to Parr 12 yards out, who hammered it past McMillan.
Runcorn level shortly afterwards, controversially.
McNeil was injured in a goal mouth scramble and lay exposed in the Runcorn six yard box. Hearing the cries of the crowd Crookes put the ball out of play in his own half. Runcorn might claim it was just a clearance, and from the throw, a cross was sent in deep to Lunt, who arrived unchallenged to nod past the stranded Ingham. Though some Celtic players protested at this unsportsmanlike behaviour it was still no excuse for poor defending.
More chances fell Celtic's way but few troubled the keeper. A great chance was taken away by the linesman, after a miskick by Benson put Sullivan through. The linesman called Sully offside - how?
An incident then occurred in which both Cowley and Pickford were lucky to stay on the pitch after. A disgraceful, late, two footed challenge from Cowley floored the tenacious Pickford, it deserved a red, but got a yellow. Pickford was lucky to stay on the pitch as he could have easily been carried off.
Runcorn's winner came late in the half. A throw and long ball down the line looked to be under control by Crookes; until he slipped just has he was about to clear. Cowley stayed on his feet, and was left with time to pick one of two Runcorn players arriving unmarked, which he duly did. McAllister converted from close range.
Cooke came on for Sullivan, and he and Filson gave Celtic more height for a succession of corners and crosses but the goal just wouldn't come.
On another day we would have had three penalties, two goals from open play, playing against a team a man down, who played sportingly . . . This was not that day.
It was not our day at all.