Talk about must win games! Celtic came into this game knowing that only a win would do. With the Whitby Accrington match postponed, it was a chance for Celtic to get within 6 points of Stanley, and let them know that the pressure it on. It also adds to the fixture congestion to the Lancashire team in the coming months.
Derby games are normally charged affairs anyway, and this was not really any different, but the half time team talk turned Hyde from pussycats into Tigers, for where in the first half Celtic were the dominant team, in the second, Hyde were nipping at ankles, and getting stuck in, forcing Dootson into three world class reaction saves.
Hyde got the first corner of the game, and though it was cut out by Celtic, it was not convincing, and Evans could get it back into the danger area. Fortunately, Dootson was aware, and cut it out. It was Celtic's turn to win a corner, when Potts tried to whip in a cross for Wharton steaming in at the back post, but Shelton protected his keeper, tracking back with his opposite number, and conceding the corner, which Diggle convincingly dealt with.
Celtic started to probe the back line, and Mayers' skill got him the space he needed for a shot, only to see Diggle get a leg in the way. As the ball came down from the stratosphere, Eastwood jostled with Wright, only to lose out, but win a throw, that Celtic could not convert.
Wharton was in the centre of most things tonight, and as such was the focus of a lot of knocks, once such winning a free kick when Foster scythed him down a full two seconds after he'd laid the ball off. Potts tried to curl the ball over the wall, and under the bar, and only got it half right. Eastwood soon was pressing for the opener though, latching onto Mayers' held up ball, but firing wide of the mark. It was beginning to look like one of those days.
Especially when Wharton brought the ball to the edge of the box, interchanged with Potts, and received the ball back as he entered the box, only to see a crowd of Hyde defenders land on him from every angle dragging him to the floor and allowing the ball to run on to Crookes.
Wharton got clattered again holding up a ball thirty five yards from goal. Celtic took the corner quickly, and Potts tried to run around Foster, but lost that battle, in the process winning a corner. Potts and Wharton took he corner, the latter trapping it, whilst the former took two steps and sped it across the face of the goal to the waiting head of Davis. Peter Crookes got just enough onto it to divert the ball away from the Celtic loan man, and concede a second corner that Dominic Crookes cleared well.
Crookes then did, what is known in the goal keeping trade, as a Bartez. He left his area to shepherd a ball out, only to realise that Caldicott could run rings around him, passing it out to one of his team mates instead. Only the pass lacked pace, and Eastwood intercepted it. Crookes put a little bit of speed on, and caught the ball as it arced in towards his net.
Eastwood looked unable to find the net. Caldicott's tenacious tackle, run and dodge to get to the by-line, gave him just enough time to put a cross in of high quality right onto Eastwood's head, but the Celtic top scorer fired over the bar.
Wright smothered Potts forty yards out, but Celtic could earn no more than a corner from a strangely worked free kick. The corner however was sublime, sneaked out to German on the wing, who whipped the ball into the Mayers at the front post. Mayers back heeled it net bound, forcing a great save by Crookes to tip the ball around the foot of his post.
Potts and Wharton were not the only ones being clattered in the middle of the park, Bowman got his fair share. Shelton being the main man responsible. Forty yards from goal. Potts fired in a more traditional free kick that Diggle cleared, but only as far as Eastwood. His turn and shot was on target, but too soft, and Crookes could scoop it up.
Eastwood finally proved the impatient wrong when Potts worked his magic to leave Wright kicking air as the winger nipped past him and got a ball in to Mayers at the edge of the box. A beautiful ball over the top of the defence from Mayers found Eastwood spectacularly, as the Celtic front man dived between both Dom Crookes and Diggle to plant his diving header past the flailing right arm of Peter Crookes and open the scoring.
Hyde finished the half quite strongly, giving an indication of the half to come. They won two corners down the left hand channel as German dealt with Hevicon's balls in.
It wasn't long into the second half when Hyde won their first corner of the half, German blocking Hayder's shot. From the corner, Shelton whipped a great ball in for Evans to plant a header into the bottom corner of the net. Only to Dootson fly across the face of his goal and tip the ball around the post for a second corner. Davis dealt with the second corner, at the expense of a third, which Hyde wasted. Dootson's close range save was magnificent, and it wouldn't be the last!
Celtic had yet to realise they had a game on their hands and started looking for a goal to kill the tigers off. German found enough space to spin a great cross into the box, which Eastwood launched himself at, but headed just over the bar. Most days Eastwood cannot miss, and some days he needs a map to find the back of the net. This was one of the latter days. Nor could Mayers help the score line out. He laid Bowman off with a perfectly weighted cross into his stride, but the shot took a deflection of Dom Crookes, and came back to Mayers. Dom Crookes, Diggle and Wright were immediately all over Mayers like a rash, but some how he smuggled the ball out, only to see Peter Crookes there to collect the ball.
Eastwood tried to reverse roles with Potts, when he collected the ball out wide, and arched a cross into the back post where Potts had snuck in, but Diggle had tracked back well, and had the height advantage to head past his own goal. Wright attempted to clear the ball, but scythed it back towards his own net. It landed at Mayers' feet. As Peter Crookes closed him down, Mayers tried to steer it past the keeper, but also steered it wide of the mark.
Celtic were not going to break through this defence again, as Diggle blocked a scorcher of a shot from Wharton from distance, and it was going to make for a nervous last thirty minutes.
Hyde began to apply pressure consistently, something they had failed to do up to that point. Whelan (on for Hevicon) was to prove a menace on the left wing with some excellent crosses. One landed inch perfect for Evans, but he steered it wide of the mark. The next was again inch perfect, this time Foster got to head it at close range. Like the effort in the opening few minutes of the half, it was on target and looked like a goal, until Dootson flew through the air to claw it away.
Celtic did get a few chances as Hyde searched for the equaliser. Shelton, in the centre circle tried to hoof the ball into the Celtic box, badly miskicked it, putting it out for a corner to Celtic. Potts put the corner near post, and Mayers flicked it on, but Diggle was there again to work the ball clear.
Wharton tried to end the problem Whelan was causing by diving two footed in when the Hyde man had the ball, and though he got the ball, he got much more of Whelan. He deservedly got a yellow card, and Foster got to try a long range effort, that Dootson was well placed to catch comfortably.
Dootson frustrated Evans yet again when Whelan put a great ball low onto Evans' foot, and the tiger tried to turn it net bound, only for Dootson to react well and push it for a corner, that Celtic cleared.
Celtic got back into the action for a few minutes, passing the ball around well, but eventually running out of room. Diggle's loose clearance almost let Mayers in, but the Celtic second top scorer could not find the target tonight, putting it wide.
Fitzgerald and Denham were brought on for Caldicott and Eastwood in an attempt to regain the Celtic initiative. With his first move, Fitzgerald interchanged with Bowman and ran into the box to get onto the return ball, only for Lomax to trip him and send him flying. Play on, said the referee, who had been unable to see through the crowd of Hyde defenders blocking his view.
Fitzgerald and Lomax clashed again just outside the box a few seconds later, when Lomax kicked Fitzgerald's ankle out from under him. Despite having to receive treatment, Fitzgerald earned a yellow card and conceded the free kick, presumably for denting the defender's boot.
It didn't matter though, the result was what counted, and though Celtic had been unable to break a stubborn Hyde defence more than once, it was unnecessary as Dootson was magical form to ensure that the one goal counted as three points.
The reverse tie will be in five days time on New Years Day. In front of a home crowd, I hope Celtic can reduce the goal difference deficit on leaders Accrington Stanley.