Match Report -
Those are the breaks
By Debbie Taylor

Celtic started like they were going to win this one. There can be no question that they won it on points, if not on goals, for they bossed the midfield, holding Harrogate at bay, and the defence looked solid.

In the opening minute, Hallows raced up field with Eastwood on his shoulder. As the pair burst into the box, Hallows squared off to Eastwood, who tried to poke it around the keeper, but Connor got a hand to it to send it around the post for a goal kick. Yes, a goal kick. This would not be the last contentious decision of the evening, but it was the first, and the game was barely a minuet old.

Nevertheless, Celtic won it again in Midfield, and built up another attack, culminating in a sublime cross in from Parr to Hallows in the box. The striker brought it under control quickly, but not before Sykes had closed him down. Hallows snapped off a shot anyway, but it cleared the bar.

Celtic were not without possession for long before Wharton had sent Eastwood off on a run into the box. Somehow the ex-Southport man kept the ball in play and dragged it back for Parr at the corner of the box. Parr's first time cross was well struck, but Aspin got enough of his head on it to flick it out for a corner before Hallows could bounce it into the net with his own head.

The corner was well defended with McNaughton (who had an outstanding game) hooking it clear and sending Harrogate on the counter. Kev Parr followed Whellans all the way to the by line, and got his head on the ball ahead of the striker, mainly because the striker had given up, but now Harrogate had a corner. Somehow, Celtic scrambled the heavily pressured ball out of the box, but it was quickly fed back to Richardson, but his low cross was smothered by Dootson.

Connor proved why he is such an asset to Harrogate moments later, when Eastwood's cross was met on the volley by Fitzgerald running in diagonally, when he parried the fierce shot, and McNaughton cleared. Eastwood hadn't finished yet, and moments later had worked some space near the corner flag, when he put in what looked like a cross, but scraped the upright on the far side on the way out - there was no doubt by the look on his face that the shot was intentional.

For the second game in a row, Celtic faced a team with an ex-Celtic player in their line up - this time James Turley. Turley had always been a runner of the ball, and he turned Fitzgerald inside out before getting off a shot - the curling effort had fooled Dootson, but he managed to save with his feet.

But the Harrogate forays were rare, as the defence held firm. And Hallows was soon racing down the right flank (a position he occupies too much, when Potts is not present!) and his by-line cross in would have been buried by Wharton, had not Turley intercepted and cleared. It was a sign that Celtic were surely going to get a goal when the Harrogate defence let their concentration slip for just a moment. Eastwood would have provided it too, but McNaughton's concentration never wavered, and after beating most of the team to get to the edge of the box, Eastwood's shot was deflected out by McNaughton, and though it fell to Fitzgerald, his shot was wide.

When Eastwood failed to win a 50-50 ball near the penalty box moments later, though, he gave up and watched Merris surge away down the field. As Celtic men converged on the midfielder, and with every target man guarded well, Merris did the only other thing he could - he had a shot. And what a shot. It curled between the crowd and into the far side of the net. Dootson had no chance with a strike like that.

Celtic didn't look disheartened by the goal against the run of play (it had been Harrogate's only chance so far). And as Wharton cut inside to reach the box, Aspin tripped him. But Celtic, without Potts, lacked the imagination from the free kick, and the ball struck the wall, before being cleared up field.

As the first half ran down, Parr tried his own 35 yard effort. There was a lot of pace on the shot, and the keeper could only parry. With Eastwood thundering down on him, Connor recovered and smothered the ball.

Though Harrogate had the second half kick off, Celtic again won it back in midfield, and Eastwood out on the flank sent in a well paced ball between defence and keeper. Wharton made contact with a powerful headed shot, but somehow Connor managed to spring from his near post, and pluck it out of the air two thirds of his net away from him. Celtic still looked threatening, and Parr was linking up the front two well, none more so than when he pulled it back to Eastwood, who stroked it across to Hallows. Hallows span and shot, and was dismayed to see his effort skid narrowly wide.

But not every cross was coming off for Celtic, as McNaughton cut out the vast majority with some excellent reading of the game, and powerful heading.

And when McNaughton cleared, the ball stayed cleared, allowing Harrogate to break. Jackson latched onto one such clearance and dribbled the ball around half a dozen tackles, before his shot from the edge of the box was tipped over by Dootson.

The Town striker almost got another chance when his fellow number 9, Hallows passed back to Dootson too short, and he raced onto it, only to see an advancing Dootson. He tried to lift it over Dootson, but cleared the bar as well. These were signs that Celtic were getting frustrated, and bringing men too far forward.

In their period of dominance, Harrogate also won a free kick, but in their haste to catch Celtic by surprise by taking it quickly, they allowed Timons to charge them down, and deflect the ball for a corner.

The corner eventually fell to Whellans, but though he had got one-on-one with Dootson, the Celtic number one made himself big, and Whellans scuffed his shot wide.

Celtic made a double switch at that point (70 minutes), bringing on Denham (whom the fans had been crying out for) and Bowman for Ridings and Mayers, who had both covered huge swathes of field to hurry and dispossess the Harrogate players. Denham did what Denham does, and ran right at the defence, as McNaughton checked his run, he tried to feed Hallows, but the ball got tangled in his feet, and when he managed to untangle it, the shot was far too week, and Connor took his easiest save of the day.

With such an obvious danger, Sykes tried to end it - permanently. As Denham charged up the wing, he saw the big defender coming in, and leapt over what he thought would be a standard sliding tackle, but it was no standard tackle, and despite being in the air, Denham was contacted with a thwack that echoed around the ground. If you've seen The One with Jet Li, you'll have seen the kind of tackle that Sykes pulled! Naturally, he got a yellow card.

When the free kick was cleared, Harrogate could break. With Celtic playing a 4-3-3 formation, they were short at the back, and in what looked like a replay of the previous Vauxhall match, when Dootson narrowed the angle, Bonsall lifted it over him, and sent it net bound. This time, though, it was Fitzgerald running back, and his pace is greater than that of Mayers, and he hooked it clear inches from the line.

With seconds on the clock, Parr won Celtic a corner. Everybody except German and Dootson piled into the box. Wharton whipped the ball in. Before it could reach a blue shirted head, a yellow sleeved arm shot out of the pack, and the distinctive sound of palm on ball could be heard. The hand was not wearing a glove. It was half cleared by Bonsall, to Timons, but his shot was well wide, and the referee blew for fall time, under duress from the Celtic players asking why the penalty had not been given for handball. The entire ground had seen it. In fact, there were only three people present who hadn't.

But these are the breaks. Celtic had carved enough opportunities to make that decision irrelevant, and only some colossus defending, a trio of great saves, and some lacklustre shooting had stopped them. The defence had been solid, and only been breached a smattering of times, and except for the goal, Dootson had rarely been troubled. It was a game we should have won, but didn't. Quite a few fans' thoughts are drifting back to last season, when such circumstances were the norm.

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