A 874 strong crowd turned out on the wet night to Watch Stalybridge Celtic kick off their home campaign in a thrilling game against Morecambe.
The Shrimps had come expecting an easy ride from the Conference new boys, buoyed by the defeat of Celtic on Saturday at Stevenage and their victory over Nuneaton.
But Bower Fold is not a place to come for an easy ride.
Morecambe started attacking from the kick off, with Gouck running at the back four. He knocked the ball too far allowing Derek Ward to stab out at the ball. Gouck continue his run and threw himself over Ward's legs, earning a free kick. Gouck took it himself, putting a good ball into the box which Talbot ran onto, heading over the bar from two feet out. This shot over the bows signalled Morecambe's intentions. Gouck repeated the move moments later, this time catching Ben Futcher out, and earning a free kick. Gouck's ball in again was dangerous, as it skimmed through the six yard box between defenders and Ingham, but nobody was there to meet it.
Celtic got their game into gear, and brought the ball up field. Perkins took on two players up the wing, knocked it inside to Courtney, who dropped it off to Ward. Ward put a great ball into the box, which was intercepted by a Morecambe defender for a throw in. Bushell received the ball, and lobbed it over Lightfoot to McNeil, but the linesman was quick with his flag. This would be a pattern of the game, with the linesman calling every close decision, regardless of whether it was right or not.
The game's opening was good positive play by Celtic, with Ward and Peacock putting balls into the box for the strike partnership of McNeil and Courtney to work with. Morecambe seemed to be playing the earn-a-foul-in-a-dangerous-place kind of game. This almost backfired when Steve Wood caught Arnold, and Lightfoot put it in, for Futcher to clear easily. Pickford (deserving man of the match) kept the ball in and took it up field. He laid off for Courtney, who read McNeil's run to perfection sliding the ball into the box. McNeil just could not control it, and it bobbled out for a goal kick.
However, just before the ten minute mark, Steve Woods was again adjudged to have left a foot behind after Gouck turned him. While Celtic protested to the ref, Gouck stepped up and curled the ball into the net. The referee signalled the goal.
1-0 to Morecambe.
Celtic pressed for the equaliser, with Peacock making some excellent crosses. He seemed to have no trouble getting to the by-line on numerous occasions and was putting in some defence testing balls. First he fed Courtney, forcing a great last ditch tackle from McKearney, then he went past three Morecambe players to feed McNeil arriving at the back post unmarked. McNeil's volley left the keeper standing, and took a layer of the fresh paint off the post. He would continue to do this all night, and Celtic were desperately unlucky on numerous occasions.
Morecambe pushed up field, penning the home side into their own half, leaving two defenders on the half way line. This put a lot of pressure onto the Celtic defence, but they coped, though Peacock earned a yellow card for complaining about a foul that never was.
Peacock reprieved himself seconds later when he made space at the edge of the Morecambe post and brought the best out of Shrimp Keeper Mawson with a thunderous shot that Mawson could only defect onto the post. As McNeil powered in, Mawson recovered and smothered the ball.
Courtney too, looked a threat, as Celtic forced Morecambe onto the ropes.
McNeil fed him an excellent ball, but defenders swarmed all over him, forcing the ball out for a throw in.
Celtic were beginning to dominate by half way through the first half, passing with confidence and deftness. There were some slick one touch moves involving three or four players, but final shot was not being pulled off, with Wood skimming the post, Courtney curling over the bar, Peacock hitting the side netting and McNeil narrowly going wide. In one case, a throw from Mattie Woods was met by Pickford, who's shot was blocked by Lightfoot, coming back to Peacock, who's shot was blocked by Drummond, before coming to Courtney, who's shot was deflected out, clipping Peacock for a throw. Even Futcher was getting up field, firstly producing a volley off a Woods cross that ballooned over the bar, before heading down a Peacock corner, that the keeper managed to put around the bar, though Mawson didn't know much about it! He tried again off the second corner, diving full stretch, and missing the ball by a fraction of an inch, allowing the ball out for a goal kick.
Morecambe were reeling.
Peacock got plenty of opportunity to practice his corners, and they just got better and better. With five minutes to go before the end of the half, Courtney received the ball at the edge of the box. He was closed down quickly, but the defenders tried to be clever, passing the ball between them instead of clearing. Courtney latched onto the cross, turned around the intended recipient into the box, and stroked the ball into the corner of the net with his right foot. 1-1. Celtic's first goal of the season, scored by the wonder man from Marine!
With their lead lost, Morecambe came at Celtic again, resorting to the earlier tactics of making use of a ref that could not tell the difference between a dive and a foul. They earned a free kick about ten yards inside the Celtic half, which Gouck fed quickly to Colkin, but Colkin's shot was wild.
After Wood put in a ball that McNeil was not tall enough to reach, and Courtney wasn't long enough to stretch for, Morecambe cleared the ball way up field. Gary Thompson brought it down just outside the Celtic box, ran inside, as Futcher knocked the ball away, Thompson tripped over Futcher's foot and slid about four feet, his arms out stretched, looking at the referee. The ref duly obliged and pointed at the penalty spot.
Ian Arnold, ex-Celt Ian Arnold coolly put the ball just outside the reach of Ingham in the bottom right corner.
2-1 to Morecambe, with only seconds left in the half.
Peacock opened Celtic's account in the second half by feeding Bushell, who's volley smacked the crossbar. His next ball in was knocked back for Bushell by Courtney, and Bushell's measured ball just curled over the post, with the keeper stationary. Bushell again was involved as Celtic pressed for the equaliser, as he fed McNeil. McNeil rode two challenges to get into the box, before shooting from too narrow an angle and hitting the side netting.
Celtic had a taste of the back of the net, and they were not going to settle for only one goal.
Pickford performed miracles cutting out a burgeoning Morecambe attack with a well timed tackle (Talbot was looking for the free kick) and brought the ball up field, he fed Derek Ward, who tried to feed Courtney, but the defender hooked it clear. It came back to Ward, and this time the keeper caught off the head of Pickford.
Morecambe must have realised they needed a cushion, as they started pressing Celtic again. Twice they put a long cross field ball in to Thompson, the first time he tried to lob Ingham as the Celtic number one narrowed the angle, but hit the side netting, then moments later, he just blasted the identical ball past Ingham and into the net. Morecambe had the cushion they wanted.
3-1 to Morecambe.
A number of Celtic's heads went down as that goal went in.
Morecambe used that to their advantage, with first Stringfellow blazing over the Lockwood and Greenwood stand with a shot that was always rising from 40 yards out, then Talbot got in on the act, his shot bringing a good block from Ward, for a corner, which Ingham duly plucked out of the air.
Luck looked to have abandoned Celtic as Peacock put a great ball into the box, blatantly handled by Colkin, but neither the linesman or the referee saw it. Pickford protested to the ref, and was given a yellow card. Things looked to be going to pieces.
Then suddenly, the tide turned. The spirit of Emley last season seemed to posses the players. Pickford's shot from 20 yards seemed to start the reversal, even though the keeper caught it comfortably. Moments after this, Winfield Steele came on for McNeil. The lithe striker's infectious never-say-die attitude ran through the entire team, though his first action of the game was to earn a yellow card for a late tackle on Drummond.
With 15 minutes to go, Steele latched onto Pickford's ball, composed himself and curled a beautiful shot up and over Mawson into the top corner. A stunning ball for his first competitive game back in the blue and white.
3-2, and 15 minutes to get an equaliser.
With such success with one substitute, Paul Futcher freshened his other striker by swapping Ged Courtney for Andy Evans.
Two minutes after Steele's goal, Evans first touch was to feed Richard Peacock, who's ball in was met by a volley from Steele, Mawson saved well, but the block came back to Pickford at the edge of the box, his drilling shot bounced once and squeezed between the Morecambe defenders for the equaliser.
3 apiece, and Morecambe could not believe it.
Celtic suddenly looked a different team from ten minutes earlier, and went hunting for the winner.
Evans and Steele interchanged in the box, Steele's sliding shot was blocked by the keeper, Evans kept it in, but his deft lob didn't come off and a goal kick was given.
Evans again gave a goal kick when he got onto a Peacock corner and did everything other than score.
With 5 minutes to go, a long clearance from Ingham came to Winfield Steele.
Winner let it bounce as he ran around the defender, latched onto the ball, then lobbed the on rushing Mawson.
4-3 to Celtic and a dream game for Winnie.
Morecambe started to panic. It was their turn to go to pieces.
The Morecambe bench tried a substitution of their own, taking of Gouck, and bringing on Rigoglioso, another ex-Marine forward.
Rigoglioso did start Morecambe attacks, but with only 5 minutes left in the game, he did not have long to make the impact Winnie Steele made, though he did win a corner off Futcher, and though Futcher headed it out again for a second corner, this corner was cleared and the ref blew his whistle.
4-3 to Celtic, first home match against highly rated opposition.