Celtic walked away from this game with the result reflecting the game, for a change. To often this season, our opponents have punished every mistake, and then commiserated our poor fortune. Not this time. Celtic played the better football, and got the result it deserved.
In a very quiet Belle Vue stadium, despite over 2000 home spectators, Celtic set out their stall in the opening minute with Courtney running at the home defence, before being being brought down to level with the box, and though the free kick went nowhere, it told Doncaster how Stalybridge were going to play the game.
The home side responded by surging forward off the long clearance by Richardson, which Jackson fired in. Beasley blocked before Batty could be troubled. It went as far as Kelly, whose lobbed ball over the defence was intercepted by an industrious Pickford, and cleared for a throw in. Celtic then had to face up to another long throw specialist, Marples, who could throw from the touchline into the six yard box. Which he would do on several occasions, but with Futcher and Beasley in defence, nothing was happening from them, and if it went within ten feet of Batty - it was his.
At the other end, Courtney was causing the home defence all kinds of problems. He won countless throws level with the box, and on one occasion even manage to wriggle out of a Courtney sandwich, though Miller and Barrick did enough to slow him down to allow Richardson to get onto Scott's through ball, rather than Courtney.
Peacock received one of the Courtney won throws and was closed down as he tried to make space for a shot, however, he wouldn't be denied for long, and when Courtney laid the ball to him at the edge of the box, he took just one touch to steady himself, then curled it around the defender, the keeper and onto the crossbar, which is still vibrating!
Doncaster, though, are masters of the second ball, and on numerous occasions, they caused consternation by putting balls back into the box, after Celtic failed to clear properly. The first evidence of this came after a free kick was only cleared as far as Barrick by Beasley, who put it back into the danger area. Patterson received the ball, and chipped the on rushing defenders. His clever move was far too ambitious for his side, and Batty had time to stop it with his knees.
Bushell did the running of ten men in this game. On several occasions, he put his head down, and ran through the home midfield like a train behind schedule. Some of his passing was sublime, also. He fed Peacock down the wing, who squared it for Pickford running in at high speed. Only the long of Miller prevented a certain goal, sending the ball over the bar. On this occasion, Futcher was adjudged to have held Miller when getting the ball. But it showed the weaknesses in the Doncaster defence.
But Doncaster were missing glorious chances of their own.
A Tierney cross was just too high for Futcher (and that takes some doing) but fell nicely for Jackson, who knocked it on again for Patterson. But Patterson's header was awful and sailed over the bar. From the reaction of the home crowd, this was nothing new. Nor, apparently, was the wild shot moments later when Beasley's clearance off a corner was volleyed by Hawkins, and missed by so much, Celtic won the throw.
Doncaster seemed adept at clearing the bar. A Peacock corner was met with a fine volley from Beasley at the back stick, but his shot was deflected for a second corner by Barrick. When the second corner came in, Richardson missed it completely, and Miller protected his face from the rapidly travelling ball, sending it out for a corner. In another game, protecting your face in this manner would have been a red card. As it was, it was a third corner. Miller used a more orthodox limb to clear the corner, but it was a mighty difficult struggle with a lot of legs hacking at the ball, trying to free enough of it to either stick it in the back of the net, or clear it.
Keeping the pressure up, Celtic brought the ball back in, and it took an heroic block by Barrick to deny Peacock's whipped in shot. His block fell to Scott thirty yards out - but Scott's shot cleared the bar.
Peacock, Courtney and Bushell linked up to allow Courtney a shot from the corner of the box before the home defence could react, and it took a fine save from Richardson to deny Courtney his goal.
Doncaster then had a series of corners as first Futcher, then Wood, granted them corners, struggling to clear. Batty's reactions were tested as he intercepted a bit of head tennis to clear the ball briefly, before a Patterson ball in was put out for a corner by Beasley. When Bushell cleared the ball he fed Wood, who saw Peacock making a fine run up the wing, and sent the ball forty yards into Peacock's path. Peacock took it on, but his shot was blocked by Barrick. The corner was played short to Courtney, who squared to Pickford at the edge of the box - his shot was blocked by Miller. Doncaster then broke, but Beasley held up Jackson, as he steamed forward - unfairly said the ref - free kick, which Doncaster wasted. But still Doncaster pressed, as the half hour approached. Winning a couple of corners and several throw - but these too were wasted. Batty had yet to do any serious keeping.
Doncaster frustration was showing. A short corner to Tierney was switched to the right wing, where Patterson waited. As Patterson hesitated, Pickford nicked the ball from his feet and had got nearly a yard away before Patterson jammed a boot into the back of his leg, yellow card.
Still Celtic allowed Doncaster chances, and still Doncaster spurned them. A prime example came when Futcher held Jackson, and the free kick was sent way over the bar. And when they did get it on target the ball had all the pace of an arthritic snail, such as a long throw which Beasley cleared as far as Barrick, who lobbed it back in for Barnes to head goalbound. Batty didn't move, and barely had to twitch an eyebrow to catch it.
But Celtic too were not getting the power they needed. When Bushell and Peacock did their infamous double act and Peacock found Courtney unmarked at the edge of the box - he scuffed his shot, allowing the keeper plenty of time to make it to his opposite post, and scoop up the ball.
But it took three special saves from Batty to keep the game goalless as Doncaster eventually found some teeth. It was another poor clearance that allowed Barrick to steady himself and fire one in from distance. It was a top corner job the whole way until a Batty palm put it out for a corner. He did it again off the corner as Jackson met the corner well, heading down, but Batty made a spectacular save from less than a yard away, going down to his left and blocking the powerful header. The block landed at Barnes' feet at the edge of the box - somehow Batty's arm was long enough to send the shot over the bar, despite him being on the floor. His fourth save was less special, as Miller was unable to get any pace onto it.
Doncaster had found their range though, and Batty now ad to be alert as the half wound down.The long throws which previously had been fruitless now started to show promise. When a long throw fell to Barnes' head, it was only the presence of Beasley that ensured the head went straight to Batty.
Slowly Celtic began to regain the initiative. It started when Pickford was adjudged to have fouled Patterson, and got carded for what was a fair tackle. Beasley cleared the free kick, releasing Murphy for the first time in the game. Murphy's run down the right was unmolested once he had beaten his man in the Celtic half. With Doncaster up for the free kick in numbers, that left only Kelly in the Doncaster half marking Courtney. Murphy crossed just as Miller raced across to tackle him, even so, the ball in was inch perfect to the edge of the six yard box, Courtney stooped past his marker, and a perfect glancing header saw the ball evade Richardson into the back of the net. It was the end of the half. And what an end.
Celtic continued the second half in the same vein, knowing that Doncaster quite often score at the start of the second half. Peacock was brought down at the edge of the box, and took the free kick himself, but his shot went wide of the mark.
Doncaster also continued to play in the same way, winning throw after throw, free kick after free kick, and corner after corner. But Celtic were resolute. Beasley has already become an integrated part of the defence, and the number of times the phrase "Beasley heads it clear" was noted down for this report are too many to go into.
The second half would see Doncaster up and up the pressure. Courtney was in his own half for quite a lot of the time as Doncaster searched for the equaliser. Woods, Beasley and Futcher performed miracles cutting out an awful lot. Doncaster would change things around three times, in the second half, looking for an elusive formartionj that could break a Celtic defence. But it just would not come. At the end, there were four forwards on, and Steve Wood dropped back mid way through the half to become an out an out defender, with Murphy and Scott also back full time, Celtic had a back six.
Batty had total command of his penalty area, catching anything that came too close.
But even the dense Celtic defence and on form keeper wouldn't have saved Celtic when Barnes fed Watson at the corner of the six yard box. His shot though was truly awful clearing the bar.
Watson caused the Celtic defence a lot of problems during the half, and the Bower boys were fortunate he was not accurate! he cleared the bar on more than one occasion.
Bushell earned Celtic second yellow card when he stopped Jackson from breaking through the middle of the park. Jackson took offence and pushed Bushell over, earning Doncaster a second yellow card as well. Sensibly, Bushell kept his cool. Batty claimed easily the free kick.
Then controversy. Well, for Doncaster fans it would be.
Off one of the many corners, Miller came steaming in. With the ball so high he used Woods as a spring board, both hands on Woods as he jumped. The ref blew before the ball even hit his head. But it went in the net, and he started celebrating. For nearly a second there was some noise from the home fans.
Celtic continued to defend, as the hosts upped the pressure another notch. Even so, Pickford still got a chance at the other end after Bushell ran the ball out of defence, and fed Courtney. Courtney was pushed over by Miller, and Pickford headed the Peacock ball in around the post.
Hawkins missed a glorious chance as the time entered the last fifteen, but he headed the corner over the bar.
As the last ten minutes came in, it was almost constant pressure, with Miller missing, Sale missing, and Jackson's 20 yard shot being saved.
At full time, the ref announced five additional minutes making the visiting fans visibly nervous.
Batty also saved bravely at Whitman's feet as the striker raced past the defence onto a Sale through ball, that could have ended it for Celtic. Fantastic save.
Celtic still got chances though after clearances. Peacock went close deep into stoppage time after rounding the keeper after a back pass, and curling one in from the touchline (having nobody to pass too). He missed.
Futcher earned Celtic's last yellow card when he threw the ball to the person taking a free kick. You just cannot throw the ball. At all, it seems.
But Celtic held firm, and the one goal was enough. No late goal to spoil the party.
It is just a shame that Ben Futcher has now got to go back to Oldham.