Match Report -
Truly dreadful
By Debbie Taylor

Celtic cannot feel aggrieved at the result, for they scored exactly as many as their play deserved.

Runcorn, on the other hand, can feel quite pleased with themselves, for they got more than their play deserved.

Such was the midfield mistakes made in this game, that it took over ten minutes for a shot to be produced from either side, and it was Celtic that produced it, with Eastwood curling a soft ball into the top corner that was easy for McMillan to catch. Up until that point, Celtic had failed to string together four consecutive passes, whilst Runcorn's only game plan seemed to be to lob the ball the full length of the pitch in the hope that one of the forwards could run onto it. This was a remarkably ineffectual approach, and did not work once. Celtic's passing game was extremely hampered by a pitch designed for rugby, with every rolling ball bumbling and bobbling in random directions. This probably explains the route-one approach taken by Runcorn, as passing it around was impossible.

A while after the Eastwood shot, McNeil finally won a free kick for Runcorn when Parr 'fouled' him. As anybody who remembers McNeil will recall, a foul on the tall striker is rare, as he backs in and holds down defenders prior to any contact by them. The free kick was floated in, and Mayers put it out for a corner, despite any real pressure. The corner was better. Taken by player/manager Watson and headed wide of the mark by Morley.

When a Celtic passing move broke down in the midfield, the ball was immediately hoofed into the Celtic third, and Morley ran onto it. He had a choice of three targets, or a shot, but in the end decided that a goal kick was the best option, and put it out. If it was a shot, it was dreadful, if it was a cross, it was worse. But this was the standard that Celtic could not slaughter.

McNeil did manage to produce some skill amid the tugging and falling, cleverly maneuvering the ball around Mayers, and driving in a low shot from a tight angle, that Dootson could only parry around the post. Dootson then tipped the ball over the bar, as it was curled directly in by Watson. Watson tried the same thing again, despite Dootson obviously being aware of it, this time, it was too long, and nobody could get near it.

After German had managed to race across the width of the pitch to intercept Morley and put a ball out for a throw, Runcorn displayed a wild card of a player in Carragher, who had a very long throw. However, Dootson punched it clear.

Unable to carry the ball into the opposition third, Parr decided to take advantage of some sloppy positioning by the keeper, and shot from just inside the half way line, but he cleared the bar. It counts as a Celtic shot, taking their tally up to two in the opening 20 minutes.

Celtic then had to wade through a further ten minutes of passionless football before a moment of excitement when several shots rained in from around the box from Parr, Eastwood, Hallows and Bowman, but the defence was a thicket of legs, and the goal keeper was never troubled, but nor could Runcorn clear their lines. Eventually German's shot on target eased the pressure by being an easy catch for the keeper.

Runcorn too could not find the target. Lightfoot getting onto a long ball from a free kick in Runcorn's half of the pitch (another McNeil 'foul'). his headed through sailed through the six yard box from one side to the other, and out for a goal kick.

Denham, making his first start, had been largely cut out of the game by several defenders at any one time. His first attack had to wait until the last five minutes of the first half, when his pumped in ball was cut out by Tomlinson, however, after Parr gave away his third free kick of the game, and Runcorn unimaginatively gave it straight back to Celtic, Denham was allowed to run at the opposition. But he was closed down quickly and never made it to the penalty box.

Watson squandered Runcorn's penultimate chance of the half when his volley off Ness' great cross looked like a penalty kick in rugby. It sailed very high over the bar, and looked more like a hurried clearance by a defender.

Price saved Runcorn in Celtic's last attack of the half, as Denham ran down the throat of the defence, and it was the defender's legs that denied the feisty forward. The whole move had been begun when the referee wandered in front of a pass from Runcorn, allowing Denham to set off on a run. McMillan palmed the corner, but weakly, it landed on the head of Ness on the line, who knew nothing of his clearance.

Runcorn's very last attack of the half came well into the long stoppage time, when the ball was a pinball around the Celtic box, until Dootson bent over and picked it up.

Again, neither side looked like the wanted to win this game from the kick off. It was five minutes this time, until Dootson's long ball up field bounced in the penalty area where Hallows and Ness tangled for it. As the bobbling pitch made it impossible to get the ball under control, Ness came out victorious.

Five minutes later, and Denham was again denied by legs, this time of the keeper. He played a trundling one-two pass with Eastwood putting him one-on-one with McMillan, but though he sent the keeper the wrong way, somehow McMillan stretched his legs to deny Denham his opening goal. The corner was turned into another corner by Carragher, heading over his own bar.

Runcorn broke with a corner clearance. Suddenly Runcorn found themselves with Kinney one-on-one with Dootson. However, he could not find the target, sending the ball high and wide.

Lightfoot somehow directed McNeil's cross wide, before Celtic managed to gain some semblance of a formation, and work the ball up the other end of the field. Eastwood looked like he'd given it away during a promising move, but Hallows squirmed his way onto the ball and flighted the ball back towards Eastwood continuing his run, but it was just too far beyond him.

Wharton is continuing his inability to find the target when Denham was mown down by Tomlinson, and he got to take a free kick 35 yards out. He curled it over the bar. He is getting closer though!

Denham continued to worm through the defence now he was getting into the swing of the game. For his troubles he won a corner that Wharton whipped in. It was a good corner, and despite both Hallows and Eastwood taking pot shots, McMillan never got to touch the ball as the defence intercepted everything.

Celtic were lacking any kind of imagination at breaking down this defence. Gone was the side that decimated Colwyn Bay only days earlier. The killer instinct was dimmed. This was to punish Celtic when German brought the ball up field all the way to the edge of the box. With virtually every Celtic shirt bar Timmons and Fitzgerald up with him, when he hesitated at the edge of the box, he lost possession, and Runcorn cleared quickly. Suddenly there were hordes of bright yellow shirts bearing down on the two Celtic defenders and Dootson.

Watson slid a ball through to Leadbetter (on only moments before for Kinney), stranding the two Celtic defenders, and putting Leadbetter one-on-one with Dootson. In previous matches, Dootson has come out on top in these contests, but not today. Leadbetter slid the ball past him as the Celtic number one came rushing out, and the ball rebounded into the net off the post. It was close, but Runcorn were ahead.

The game was effectively over as a contest. Despite having 15 minutes remaining, Runcorn went into take the ball to the corner mode. Despite this, McNeil got to try a trick, by playing keepy-uppy in the Celtic box, before doing an overhead kick right at Dootson.

Celtic almost produced a miracle goal as time began to disappear, when Potts (on for Eastwood) sent a fine ball into the box. Mayers got the faintest of touches on it to diver it into the bottom corner, but somehow, McMillan produced the save of the day getting right across the face of his goal and down to tip the ball around the post. Hallows could not convert the corner, despite getting a head to the ball.

Runcorn managed another break, but this was more like a normal Runcorn break, in that Campbell had two passes on, but chose to leather it high above the bar. But really, Runcorn's intention were clear, and they just held the ball in Celtic's corners for as long as possible.

Celtic may have excuses: the pitch was awful, this was not a first choice team with Timons and Potts injured, Ridings out injured, Parkinson deciding to leave the 'Fold, Westwood on loan, Caldicott still injured. But no amount of excuses can excuse the pitiful performance really. The Celtic we saw for 20 minutes against Colwyn Bay would have ripped this defence to shreds. And yet, at the end of it, we have to say that any decent team would have ripped us to shreds. On the day that saw only the Runcorn Celtic game have the only home win, Celtic fell further behind the leading pack. It may be early days, but the form we are on extrapolates to 44 points at the end of the season - and that is relegation form.