Match Report -
Honours Even
By Debbie Taylor

Celtic came into this game one quarter of the way through the 12 points from 12 needed for a serious title challenge, but left it with that challenge severely dented. Take nothing away from Bradford, they are one of the best teams that have played at Bower Fold this season, and gave the Celts a run for their money, but when push came to shove (and that happened a lot) Celtic couldn't break Bradford. Bradford were gutsy, fast with a modicum of skill, but there was nothing they could do to stop the Eastwood goal-machine.

Potts wriggled his way, almost straight from the kick off, into the box, having squeeze between two defenders to get onto his neatly touched ball, with Eastwood and Mayers with him, he decided to go alone, and unleashed a powerful shot from just inside the area that Stansfield blocked for a corner.

Holmshaw, the stand in keeper for Avenue reacted well when Potts' corner curled in towards the underside of his bar, punching it clear, but only as far as Eastwood. Celtic's top striker volleyed straight back at goal, it struck several shirts on the way through the crowd with Davis' chest directing it past Holmshaw for an opening goal on 47 seconds. Eastwood's goal, credited to Davis.

Celtic didn't sit back, as they had against Hyde, they quickly won the ball back and tried to capitalise on Bradford's reeling. Eastwood and Caldicott danced around the defence, but from somewhere Atkinson's trailing leg robbed Eastwood at the expense of a corner. The defence were noticeably jittery as Potts' ball arched into the box, but they got it clear as far as Wharton this time. He tried the shot, but curled it wide of the upright.

Inch by inch, Bradford worked their way back into the game, and fired a warning shot of what was to come, when Hayward fired a low cross into the box for the number 12 shirted (they'd forgotten the number 10 shirt! Doh!) Painter to latch onto. Celtic closed down, and scrambled the ball unconvincingly clear.

Wharton tried to jink his way through the defence, but Collins stopped him in his tracks, only to see the rebounded ball land at Eastwood's deadly feet. This time, Eastwood fired wide. Potts won a corner moments later, with another excellent cross meant for Eastwood, but cut out with a diving header by Mitchell. The corner was cleared, but Celtic were soon back in among them, with Eastwood chesting a Bowman cross down to Mayers. His first time volley was right at Holmshaw. Eastwood and Potts then took a turn to thread the ball through the defence, before an excellent square ball across the box was inch perfect for Mayers, but the tall centre forward leant too far back when he blasted it, sending it high over the bar.

After a silly tackle from Wharton on Wright, Benn got a chance to try out his distance boots from the free kick. Mayers was at the back post to head it clear. However, Bradford were not sitting back an absorbing punishment, they were dishing it out. And when Pearce was beaten by Painter it took a great block from Dootson to deny the Bradford man an equaliser.

Mayers couldn't convert Benn's loose ball at the edge of the box, and Celtic really could have done with the big man doing better, as Bradford were clearly the team on top. Benn hoofed the ball up field for Wright to chase, and he kept it in, firing a quick cross into the box, and Celtic cashed their Get Out of Jail card when Hayward headed over the bar from close range. A few moments later, Bradford were back up there again, with a low ball from Hayward into the six yard box. Amid a press of players, Painter slid through the box (and several defenders and Dootson), to sneak the ball into the back of the Celtic net.

Celtic received their wake up call, and charged back at Bradford. First Potts was scythed down by Benn, then by Wright, the latter with a danger tackle from behind that got him a yellow card. Eastwood took the free kick, curling it just past the upright.

It was then Eastwood's turn to get some punishment. He ran into the box to get onto the end of a Potts cross, only to be shoved in the back, and send flying into the net by Collins. Thinking that perhaps they could get away with murder, Stansfield hacked Eastwood down seconds later, just after he had regained his feet to trap Caldicott's low cross on the penalty spot. This time, the referee decided that enough was enough, and gave, grudgingly, Celtic the penalty.

Eastwood converted it, and made it look easy, with a low ball into the bottom left, and the keeper in the bottom right. A few people for Bradford didn't like the decision. Painter earned a yellow card for complaining, and Storton, the Avenue manager was escorted off the pitch for voicing his views.

Celtic again tried to capitalise on a shaken back line, as Eastwood steamed past Mitchell and whipped a great ball in. Mayers should have left it for Bowman who was unmarked ten yards from goal, but Mayers headed over the bar instead.

Again, that miss was to prove costly for Celtic.

Tracey got forward for the first time as the first half began to tick away, shooting from distance after carrying the ball most of the pitch. It was a comfortable catch for Dootson, but alarm bells should have been ringing that their full back could get to shooting distance.

Eastwood tried to put clear air between the teams, but Holmshaw denied him with a good shot, after Eastwood had made enough space at the edge of the box for a low drive. Games like these are full of what if's and Celtic's near misses are all of them.

Tracey got up field again with seconds left on the clock, tried another shot from distance that Hayward looked to connect with and steer past Dootson, but Hooper slid in well, looking to have made a vital touch. But it was a sickening touch as the ball looped over the top of Dootson's out-flung arm and snuck in just under the bar.

The final act of the half was a beautiful ball from Eastwood over the defence that released Wharton to go one on one with Holmshaw. Wharton controlled it first time and smashed it past the Avenue keeper, only for it to be disallowed for offside. It was a poor decision as he ran onto after running around a defender.

Celtic nearly started the second half as they had the first. Eastwood latched onto a poor back pass, and cut it back for Mayers, but Myers could not wrap himself around the ball enough, and it went wide.

Wharton got clattered from behind by Tracey in the box, leaving Wharton feeling enough pain to be eventually substituted, though he persevered on. Having already given one penalty, and as nobody then immediately broke Wharton's leg, the referee declined to give another.

But Bradford were also looking for the equaliser, and with equal disability. Benn took advantage of Caldicott and Pearce being up field to race into clear water, and as he was closed down, cross a great ball for Painter, but the Avenue striker headed over. Hayward then got onto an awkward bouncing ball that Celtic's defence failed to clear, but put it wide.

Potts got two bites at goal when he worked his stuff to get into the box, and tried to fire between Walsh's legs, only for those legs to close, and for Potts to get the ball back. He took it an extra step, and aimed for the bottom corner, but the goal keeper had got back into position, and could save it. Eastwood two was missing the target: Caldicott fed him a great ball from the wing while he stood central just outside the box, but he volleyed wide.

Fortunately Bradford were matching Celtic miss for miss. Collins got to the back post for a free kick, and missed from inches, and when his shot from distance looked to be going wide, even an acrobatic overhead kick from Hayward could not steer it into the net. Benn at least was on target when he cut inside after a long run, and shot from distance, which Dootson caught fairly comfortably.

Potts overlapped with Mayers to get to the by line and whipped in a trademark cross destined for Eastwood's head and another goal, but Mitchell was alert to the danger and diving headered the cross just past his own post. Only narrowly wide. Wharton received the ball from a throw in, and took it around everybody to go one on one with the keeper. Holmshaw obviously remembered the offside goal, and spread himself at Wharton's feet. Wharton tried to poke it around him, but could not bend it towards the net, and Collins had enough time to scramble it clear before Mayers could pounce.

At the other end, Dootson responded to the dodgy keeper chants of the Bradford fans by proving them wrong. Painter received a threaded ball and tried to prod it home, but a great reaction dive from Dootson denied him. Dootson again earned his second consecutive man of the match award when Tracey ran onto a Painter thru ball and struck it cleanly, with power. Somehow Dootson flew through the air to palm it around his top corner.

Denham, on for Mayers, should have won it in the last fifteen, when he raced up field, cut inside a defender to go one on one with the keeper, only fro Potts to get into his way, and allow the defence to reorganise. Denham tried to get past Potts, and the ball bounced up, and was deliberately taken away from him by the arm of Collins, Celtic's third declined absolute certain penalty shout.

As if to prove his place in the team, Holmshaw mirrored Dootson's great save, with a great save of his own. Eastwood received the ball from Denham at the edge of the box, he turned and shot, top corner, except for the fingertips of Avenue's stand in keeper. German received the corner, and fed Pearce, Holmshaw made a great save with his feet to deny the ex-Chesterfield defender. Eastwood couldn't then get enough on a Caldicott cross in to divert it into the net, and Celtic almost paid again, except for a third reaction block from the Celtic number one. Painter latched onto a loose ball in the box, taking it on the half volley, and Dootson made himself big, denying Painter the joy of a second.

The final act of this highly enjoyable game, was Collins shooting from distance again, straight at Dootson.

Either side could have won this game. It was end to end, hugely entertaining, with two championship contenders. Considering Bradford have sold two of their goal scoring talent to Accrington (neither of whom scored today) the Yorkshire outfit are still churning the talent out. Both Hayward and Painter were big strong lads with quick feet and an eye for goal.

Mayers and Eastwood both had chances they spurned, their keeper made some crucial saves, three penalty decisions turned down, and Wharton's valid goal was disallowed - Celtic will feel aggrieved. But from Bradford's point of view, Dootson made three Premiership class saves to keep the scores even, so perhaps, at the final whistle, a draw is a fair result, even if it does damage Celtic's title aspirations.