Match Report -
More cards than Clintons
By Debbie Taylor

A shade under 400 came to watch Celtic attain a bittersweet victory rather than watch United go out of the Champions League.

The first half was about Celtic pressure, with Blyth playing a hack-em down game. Celtic wasted some good chances, with Jones making the running, eager to add to his impressive tally. Within moments of the kick off, he was being pushed down in the box (seconds later the exact same foul was committed up field, where a free kick was given - cowardly refereeing!). He got a second chance, when his half volley was cleared off the line by Forster's head after Burke was well beaten. Pickford got in on the act, when Sullivan won a corner, and Pickford drove the ball towards goal, only to see it deflected wide by Little - although a goal kick was given. Sullivan attempted to grab a lucky goal, when he blocked Martin's clearance, and the keeper only just managed to scramble across his line to reach it.

Celtic's goal when it came seemed inevitable. Sullivan, inspirational for his stay on the pitch, earned Celtic's third corner with some excellent wing play. Cooke received the ball at the edge of the penalty box, turned and fired, only for it to be deflected wide. Bauress trotted over to the other side of the pitch, and forced in another. The ball came out to Sullivan who flicked the ball into the crowd of Blyth players and found Cooke's head.

Cooke made no mistake, as he looped his header over the Blyth keeper to get Celtic's just reward.

Blyth attempted to come right back, but Stewart's final ball into the box was awful, and Ingham claimed without a Blyth shirt near him.

Blyth took advantage of the referee's inability to see once to often, and the referee awarded an indirect free kick inside the penalty box after Jones had been shoved off the ball (exactly like in the opening few minutes).

Bauress squared it to Sullivan, who's shot cleared the bar. Jones continued to try and get on the score sheet, but his drive got a deflection that took all the pace off it, and put it right down Burke's throat. After being put in by Ward, Jones was unable to control the ball, and Cooke was beaten to the bobbling ball by Burke, coming off his line well.

Sullivan made the most of a half chance, forcing a full stretch flying save from Burke with a distance shot.

The Celtic defence was not idle in the first half, repelling all borders, but when Little managed to get a cross in, Ingham was called on to stop Pepper's header - which he did well. Blyth got a corner after the ref had said goal-kick, and when Perry was denied the space he needed to get a shot off by Crookes and Filson, he blazed so wide, it was in a different postcode.

The referee was handing out cards like he was a branch of Clintons, and his first came towards the end of the first half after Filson was bundled over rather unprofessionally by Perry. He got up and pushed Perry, receiving a yellow, whilst the late, late tackle went unpunished, but for a free kick (so the ref obviously saw it!).

The second half saw Celtic penned back in their own third, resorting to hoofing the ball up field, rather uncharacteristically, inviting Blyth to attack. Which Blyth, rather sensibly, did. Though their final ball lacked a killing edge. Pepper went only just wide with their best effort.

Charles was brought on to rest Jones, and use the ex-Crewe player's skill and pace. This seemed to settle Celtic a little, and they started playing it up field again. After forcing a corner, Filson got onto Bauress' ball, and his powerful header was well saved.

A few minutes later, Sullivan was kicked, pulled and dragged as he tried to get past the Little on the right wing, after the ball had been cleared, he confronted his attacker for the disgraceful fouls that the ref had missed, and got an instant red when the linesman attracted the ref's attention to the confrontation.

Wilson took Cooke off and put McNeil on, his impact was almost immediate, with some good skill shown. It was he who got hold of a Bauress corner, laid off Crookes who struck the ball well for a low drive that beat Burke easily.

Celtic had the cushion they needed.

Charles provided a one man trick show to set up several attacks, but either the keeper pulled off a great save, or the resulting shot was unspectacular, the best came as Charles juggled the ball around three Blyth defenders, to lay off Bauress, who shot low and hard from an angle, which the keeper managed to save. If it had been a strange sight to see Bauress so far forward, he inured us to it, by getting into the box several times throughout the half, though he failed to score, he was making chances, until the referee decided that attempting to get around an obstructing player was a yellow card offence. McNeil was also carded for being fouled, with the Blyth players as yet unpunished (their only card was Stewart for encroachment!). The frustration with the ref from the players was palpable.

With the two goal cushion, Celtic fell back for the last 10 minutes, and again Spartans pressed the advantage, though Pepper and Stewart missed the target, it took a great save from Ingham at the feet of Perry to stop the deficit being halved.

Finally the card showing ref turned on Blyth, who must have thought they could do anything and get away with it, or get the decision in their favour. In quick succession two cards were handed out. Little finally got his just desserts when he felled McNeil at least two seconds after McNeil had laid off the ball, and Pepper got a yellow for the same offence on Filson.

Celtic finished with a clear cut opportunity for Pickford, who volleyed over Bauress' inch perfect pass.

Whilst we won, bringing us within a point of Emley, the refereeing standard was abysmal, and Celtic did not help matters by resorting to long hopeful clearances during long stretches of the second half. It could be said that this was a great defensive performance by the champions elect, but the several yellows we received, and Sullivan's red might have a significant impact on the remaining games.