Match Report -
Missed 4 empty nets!
By Ian Barker

Four individual virtuoso performances and four glaring misses were the disparate and perhaps contradictory highlights of a pulsating Celtic performance for which every player on the team deserves credit.

That the game was won by a 14th minute Phil Eastwood penalty that the born-again striker tucked neatly inside the keeper's left hand post does not tell anything like the whole story.

First off, special praise to the four sparkling diamonds. Dave German, in competition for a place with Stephen Clegg, was back at his best. Whether it was moving the ball out of defence or whipping in telling crosses to the far post, his was a dazzling display. On 28 minutes his dipping swerving cross ball was dropped by the keeper in collision with a defender and only the mother of all misses by Kevin Parr prevented the goal tally from doubling. The angle was tight, for sure, but from 5 yards out and with an empty goal in sight , Kevin could only hang his head in his hands as his fierce drive sailed over the bar. Throughout the game German's service into the penalty area was exceptional , with Parr again and Kenny Mayers both coming close with headers from such crosses in.

Debutant Danny Hooper put on an impressively competitive display, tackling hard, commanding midfield and linking up time and again with German and Denham with high quality one touch passing that delighted everyone on a windswept, rainy afternoon.

Jerome Fitzgerald pushed forward and operated throughout as a left winger - his defensive services were rarely needed in the face of a non-existent threat from Lancaster's plodding forwards. His strength and pace were just too much for a battle weary visiting defence. It was his head back across the box that led to Steven Miller's line-out jump and handball and the subsequent penalty kick early on. But Jezza was pumping balls in all afternoon. His most spectacular defence splitting pass found Colin Potts totally unmarked in the 81st minute, but Pottsy somehow bundled his shot wide with only keeper Speight in the way.

Top dog today though was Phil Eastwood. His ball control, his ability to turn opponents inside out, his shooting power were all evident in joyful abundance. In the first half he shared honours with Chris Denham for the number of fierce shots blocked by sprawling defenders. But the way he shook off not one, nor two , but three defenders in the 35th minute before curling a 25 yard shot to the keeper's left was a mini-master class all of its own. Speight's finger tip push round the post was only one of several splendid saves in the match.

Just before half time Eastwood was at it again, this time rescuing a lost cause down by the corner flag, floating over a teasing cross that Speight just managed to nudge over Mayer's head.

Eastwood was denied his second goal in the 64th minute by another wonder save. Phil brought down Denham's looping cross from the right in a flash ; he turned his man and cracked in a shot from no more than 10 yards out but Speight pulled off the stop of the match as he flung himself down to his left. Despite the quality of the save , Eastwood will feel he should have done better.

Four minutes later Kenny Mayers missed an even easier opportunity. Again fed by the irrepressible ex-Southport man, the ex-Lancaster player found himself running on to a perfectly weighted ball with the net begging to be ripped apart. Kenny's tame side-footed effort was easily turned away for a corner by Speight, who by now must have felt that the rain gods were on his side.

And what of Lancaster? Going forward, their first half efforts were pitiful. At least in the second half they put up some kind of a fight, but for all their second half bluster , they could concoct only one shot on target, that being a 25 yard free kick which skimmed over the rain-soaked surface for Dootson to collect on his knees.

Former Celtic man Chris Perkins joined the show after 62 minutes and at least he did make a couple of forays towards goal both of which resulted in wild shots first high and then wide of their target.

Andy Whittaker put one header 20 yards wide in the 20th minute and that just about sums up his contribution to the game. Apart, that is , from his late booking for dissent.

Those glaring misses apart, this was far and away Celtic's most impressive performance of the season. City's shell-shocked faces bore testimony to that as they trudged back to their dressing room a thoroughly beaten side despite the apparent narrowness of their defeat.