Match Report -
Injury hit - but victorious
By Debbie Taylor

Celtic could have been forgiven for being slightly worried before going into this game. They were unable to field 14 fit players, and Martin was on the bench to make up the numbers. Late fitness tests on Pearce and Bowman saw them able to play, and both went into the starting line-up. With Bowker out through a thigh strain, his replacement was the highly regarded Earl Davis, who had captained Burnley's youth team, and progressed into the first team, joining on a months loan. His contribution was in stopping everything that the home side could offer through the middle, whilst they themselves stopped everything from the wings, preferring a lump it and chase it approach to the game.

After playing the ball around, Celtic lost it to a midfield tussle between Bowman and Boddy, which freed McMahon to shoot across the face of goal, but nobody was running in to convert, and Celtic could restart with some great passing. The tricky feet of Potts saw him leave Pepper standing, and whip in a great cross, Eastwood steamed in and calmly back-heeled the ball past the helpless Gilmore, who had to ask where his defence had gone.

With the lump it tactic, Blyth came close a couple of times, with crosses in from Williams being punched clear by Dootson, though Robson missed the target from close range getting onto the end of one such cross, Blyth never really threatened, as Dootson commanded his box well, also catching a relatively week header from Keegan off a Pepper free kick.

Celtic did not drop to Blyth's level and sprayed it around in an exhibition of great looking football. Potts seemed to be at the heart of everything that Celtic were accomplishing, and he almost helped to extend the lead when his cross found Mayers unmarked, and his volley produced the save of the match from Gilmore. Pepper then played his keeper into trouble with a poor back-pass that Potts immediately latched onto, raced into the box, and curled it past Gilmore as the unfortunate keeper came out to narrow the angle. Celtic eased into exhibition mode, and some of their passing was sublime, if accomplishing nothing threatening, but Blyth struggled to regain possession. When Mayers nodded down Hooper's free kick to Potts at the edge of the box, the winfger finished off the half with a great strike he'd had all the time in the world to line up, screaming the ball into the top corner, again the leaky Blyth defence were letting their keeper down with poor marking.

In the second half, Caldicott slid dangerously in and looked to get some contact on the ball, but sent Robson flying. Luckily the referee gave only a penalty (though some might say Robson had been looking for the penalty), which Robson dutifully dispatched. Admittedly, the penalty wasn't particularly well struck, but there was enough deception in it to send Dootson the wrong way, and see it trickle inches past his out flung leg down the centre of the net.

This goal gave Blyth some impetus, and Mayhill headed Williams' cross against the woodwork, and Pearce cleared, but it was to be their only real chance, as Celtic's defence clamped down. Indeed, the only way that Robson found to get through the stonewall erected at the back, was to clearly handle the ball before blasting it past Dootson. But the referee blew the moment Robson pushed the ball onto his foot, and the goal did not stand.

As Blyth pushed forward looking for a second goal, wide spaces opened up at the back, which had started the half much tighter than in the first. But though Celtic never looked threatened and continued to play the ball around with aplomb, they also never looked threatening. That changed when Potts, who's contribution in the second half was not as influential as it had been in the first, was replaced by Denham. Denham's eagerness to exploit the wide empty spaces behind the Blyth back four, unlocked their defence for the umpteenth time, and put a great gloss onto the afternoon. He raced past the offside trap, taking Eastwood with him. A cross ball was well controlled by Eastwood, taking out the tracking back defenders, and he found the time to slide it into the path of Mayers for a trademark Mayers goal, side footed into the back of the net with the keeper left berating his defence again!

Despite the injury problems beleaguering Celtic at the moment, this was a great performance, it would be impossible to tell that Clegg, Caldicott, Pearce and Davis had never played together before. The midfield was superb, with Parr reigning lost possession on several occasions, and Potts being an entire book of tricks. Hooper's distribution was excellent, and Bowman was solid; the understanding developing between Eastwood and Mayers is awe inspiring, and the two truly play off each other well. As the injury problems ease, Celtic can only get stronger. The next game is against Rothwell Town, who've lost their last two games to Kings Lynn and Tonbridge, but are flying high in the league and will be difficult opponents.