Match Report -
Chances must be taken
By Debbie Taylor

An expectant crowd turned up hoping to see another Celtic wonder show after the euphoria of Tuesday night and for 45mins a repeat looked likely. However Stalybridge were left to rue a host of missed chances in the first half as Hereford eventually ran out comfortable winners.

Hereford started the game brightly with both Elmes and Williams having attempts at goal though neither effort troubled Celtic keeper Ingham. From then on the first half was almost total Celtic domination.

Courtney and McNeil combined to cut the Hereford defence open in the 7th minute but McNeil's shot from 15yds flashed past the wrong side of the post. Bushell then got on the end of a cross from Perkins but Baker made a point blank save to deny him.

Courtney twice got himself into shooting positions but each time sent his shot high and wide of Baker's goal. His movement and pace made him a constant threat to the Hereford defence though and he will be disappointed he didn't convert at least one of two clear chances that came his way. Firstly McNeil, who looked much sharper before being substituted through injury, worked himself enough space on the left to send over a perfect cross, but the unchallenged Courtney could only direct his header yards wide. An even more glorious opportunity presented itself to the ex-Marine forward a couple of minutes later. Steve Wood split the defence with the pass of the match but Courtney snatched at his shot with only Baker to beat and the ball rolled harmlessly wide.

Celtic continued to lay siege to the Hereford goal, McNeil flicked a header over the keeper but just the wrong side of the post, Peacock drilled a shot from 20yds straight into Baker's midriff and Futcher headed wide from a Peacock free-kick. On 35mins Celtic won a corner from which Futcher again used his immense height to reach but his header crashed against the underside of the bar. Bushell following in saw his close range header cleared off the line as Hereford packed their goalmouth.

Stalybridge had thrown everything at Hereford in the first half for no reward and the threat they posed diminished after McNeil was forced to leave the field through injury.. In the dying moments of the first half Parry curled a shot towards goal for Hereford, which Ingham was more than equal to. At the other end Derek Ward fired a low shot which was blocked in front of goal.

The second half was a different story. Celtic lost their way as Hereford took control of the midfield. Williams and Parry began to get the better of the Celtic full-backs and the Hereford attack posed much more of a threat. Both got good crosses over in the early minutes of the second half, Elmes coming closest to scoring with a header that looped just wide of Ingham's left hand post.

Another cross from Williams in the 54th minute saw Hereford take the lead. Despite the height in the Celtic defence it was alarming to see how easily Hereford were winning their headers and when Elmes thrust between Futcher and Woods, Ingham was given no chance with the bullet header. Ten minutes later it should have been 2-0 when Gavin Williams picked out Mark Williams with another cross, but he headed over from close range. Celtic briefly threatened, Courtney's overhead kick and Futcher's header were comfortably saved before Baker produced the save of the game in the 71st minute to deny Bushell who had burst forward from midfield. His drive from 20yds was brilliantly turned away by Baker's left hand as he plunged to his left.

Two minutes later, Hereford wrapped up the game, though they have an uncharacteristic Ingham blunder to thank for it. There looked to be no danger as Matt Clarke, who had an outstanding second half for the visitors, put over a deep cross. Ingham came to collect unchallenged but somehow fumbled the ball. As he flapped around on the ground, desperately trying to grab the loose ball Elmes, unable to believe his luck, nicked the ball away, steadied himself and smashed home his second goal.

Steele came on for Celtic but lightning doesn't normally strike twice and it didn't again today. Hereford twice came close with headers from crosses again as Celtic struggled to muster up any kind of attack in the closing stages.