In conditions that were a complete contrast to anything previously seen, Celtic contained the hosts almost effortlessly, and snatched a goal that was deserved. Returning to their old stomping ground, Potts and Mayers must have been shocked at the contrast to Bower Fold. The pitch was patchy, bumpy and dusty. A bouncing ball was a dangerous thing, whilst dribbling would take the skill of Figo rather than Potts.
Lancaster started quickly, more used to the dust bowl conditions, but the Celtic defence held firm with the City target man, Whittaker, muscled out by Bowker and Pearce on two occasions before Celtic began to mount their own attacks, and discover the subtle fouling skill of Haddow.
It began with a good cross by Hooper that Haddow intercepted ahead to Eastwood, after holding the Celtic striker up out of sight of the referee. Mercer didn't quite have the subtlety of his team-mate, and when he clattered Bowman, it was instantly given as a foul, 45 yards from goal. German whipped in the free kick aiming for Mayers. Whittal-Williams made a very effective barrier, and Mayers' attempt to get around him was judged illegal, breaking up the Celtic attack.
Celtic were soon bringing the ball through the Kalahari again. Caldicott found Potts with a cross that evaded the problematic pitch and Potts' evaded Haddow and Whittal-Williams long enough to put a good cross to the back post where Mayers was trundling in. Thornley, in City's goal read the flight well and collected.
From the punt, Lancaster got to mount an attack, but only because Bowker shrugging off the attentions of Love was deemed a foul to Lancaster, and Mercer could float a free kick into the box. Parr cleared with a strong header as far as Yates, who's cross was met by Love. From forty yards his shot looked like it may curl back in . . . to the ground! It was woefully wide.
Potts danced past the attentions of Haddow, to the increasing frustration of the City full back. His cross was controlled well by Hooper. The weak point in Hooper's game is his lack of confidence for shooting at goal. He had a great opportunity to fire one in, but chose instead to provide a cross of high quality to Parr approaching the centre circle. Thornley jumped, reached, landed on Parr, lost the ball, and won a foul! Parr really should watch himself, he obviously deliberately placed himself directly where the keeper could land on him!
Potts won a corner off Sparrow (who had been a Celtic target at the beginning of the season). Another different style of corner saw Potts and Hooper interchange to get the ball to the edge of the box where Potts unleashed a fearsome drive that never reached the keeper due to three defenders throwing themselves into the path of the ball, and it needed all three!
After lengthy treatment for Whittal-Williams who'd turned an ankle on the terrible pitch, Lancaster broke well with Whittaker getting his first real run at goal. When he realised that there was no way past German and Pearce he squared it to Dibble, but a timely tackle on the edge of the box by Bowker dispossessed him and allowed Dootson to calmly scoop the ball up. Buoyed by the incursion into the Celtic half, Love tried a distance shot that struck Bowker and was deflected wide. Bowker had to receive treatment, and was forced to leave the pitch whilst the corner was taken (unlike Whittal-Williams who'd been allowed to stay on). Hooper cleared the corner well.
Celtic won a series of free kicks and corners, but couldn't make anything of them with the delivery never seeming to reach a yellow shirt. From one corner, Celtic did come close, with the keeper punching as far as Hooper who pushed the ball back to Potts. His ball over the top was back to Hooper. Again the lad had the chance to shoot but instead lofted it into the box where Bowker tried an overhead kick that cleared the bar.
Lancaster must have known it was coming. For the umpteenth time, Haddow brought Potts down, dead centre twenty yards from goal. Potts placed the ball in a ground where he had been so popular. Five lined up in the wall. Everybody knew his reputation, but still, the ball curled around the wall and just beyond the finger tips of Thornley. It was a great way to end the half, and fully deserved.
Celtic just had to continue in the same vein when they came out - and this they did - Bennett provided Celtic with an opening almost straight away with a handball near the centre line. Caldicott's floated cross was met by a powerful header from Mayers, but Thornley was well placed and saved well. Potts then won a corner off Haddow by evading the lunging challenge that could have ended his career. Potts' corner was low to Mayers at the edge of the box. Lancaster City defenders swarmed all over their former team mate, and dispossessed him.
Haddow eventually managed to catch Potts. Potts span around him and started to race off but Haddow scythed him down. Potts took the free kick, but it was too high for Parr and Bowker. Eastwood lobbed it back into play for Potts running into the box, but the bounce took it awkwardly away. Bennett sliced the clearance into touch allowing Celtic to continue the pressure. Potts received the throw knocked the ball past Haddow and went to run after it, only for Haddow to pull him off his feet. This time the free kick was cleared by half time substitute Rigby, but German returned it straight back to Potts, who lobbed into the box. Bowker clambered all over Mercer to get the ball, ending the pressure.
Rigby who had replaced Whittal-Williams had taken over the task of excluding Eastwood from the game, but he took it too literally when he tried to exclude him from every game forty yards from goal. The free kick from Caldicott was just kept in by Parr at the back post trying to bring it back to Pearce, but Bennett intercepted and his strong header got the ball clear and set Haddow on a run. Haddow showed another string in his bow when Bowker's fair challenge sent him rolling, and winning the free kick. Pearce headed Love's ball behind for a corner. Mayers cleared, as far as Love, but Love's shot was poor and wide.
Possibly Lancaster's best chance was denied at the expense of a yellow card from Bowker. Parr slid the ball to the defender, who failed to control it sending the dangerous Whittaker on a run at Dootson. German sped across, which was fortunate, as Bowker hauled the Lancaster striker back. Had German not been there, that would have been an instant red card.
The free kick was wasted, though Lancaster soon got another chance when German's shielding was judged illegal and Love got to float a ball into the box from by the touch line. Love tried the surprise shot from an acute angle. It may have caught Dootson unawares, but he saved it.
With the constant attentions of the defence, Whittaker was having a torrid time. Although he managed to turn Pearce, the Celtic defender reacted quickly enough to ensure that the shot was weak and an easy catch for Dootson. Indeed, the biggest problem for the Celtic keeper was complacency!
At the other end of the pitch, where the defence was containing Eastwood with equal efficiency, the Celtic striker left his marker just long enough to get on the end of a Mayers' nod down off Hooper's cross, but Eastwood's body-shape was all wrong, and the volley sailed over the bar. He then took advantage of a sleepy marker to leave Fensome and Rigby long enough to provide a great cross onto the boot of Potts, but the Celtic winger stabbed it wide, with Thornley well beaten and relieved to see if go wide.
In denying Dibble any chance on goal, German got himself injured, and was replaced by Clegg, fresh back of loan from Altrincham. Not quite up to match speed, he allowed Yates to put a cross into the box that was a scant inch to high for Pearce to clear, but fell ever so sweetly onto the left foot of Whittaker. Whittaker doesn't miss chances like those, and volleyed superbly, and it took an equally superb save from the Celtic Keeper to deny the league's top scorer (as he was before the game) his 31st goal of the campaign.
A sweeping ball forward by Caldicott was touched perfectly by Potts to take him beyond Haddow and Mercer, perhaps another touch would have been in order as Thornley advanced out of his net, but Potts struck it well enough, it just rose the whole way from his boot over the bar.
Sensing that time was slipping away from them, and being late goal specialists (20+ this season in the last 10 minutes of a game), Lancaster surged forward. Caldicott stopped Whittaker by not moving out of the way of Whittaker's run. Though Caldicott came away with the ball, the referee awarded a free kick in a dangerous area to the home side. Love struck it, and to be honest, from the moment it left his boot, it was never going in.
A bit of Potts magic left Haddow swinging at empty air again as the tricky winger ducked inside then outside before sliding a ball to Mayers. AN instant touch from the other ex-Lancastrian put the ball on a plate for Eastwood. Celtic's top striker got the faintest of touches on it to direct it into the top corner, but Thornley sprang well and plucked it out of the air.
With Potts having skinned Haddow so often, Haddow decided to abandon subtlety. A long cross came over from Caldicott. Potts tapped it around Haddow and went to run the other way around him. Haddow swung his arm knocking Potts of his feet with a crack across his cheek that reverberated around the ground. The travelling fans were sure that Haddow would finally get his comeuppance. But no! Mr. Sims decided that Potts had fouled Haddow! A mysterious decision. Potts had had his teeth so badly rattled that he had to be replaced by Denham. Meanwhile Haddow chuckled. Lancaster wasted their free kick, collected by Caldicott and sending Eastwood off on a run. Eastwood got in a cross, but Fensome put out a leg and diverted it for a corner.
Bowker went for goal of the season off the corner. Parr nodded Hooper's corner down to Mayers who lifted it over the defence to Bowker, who attempted what can only be described as a back-heel at waist height, looping the ball over Thornley and unluckily off the bar.
Denham got the chance for a run after being found by Mayers in the middle of the park. Haddow had no chance of catching him, so grabbed hold of Denham's shirt, spinning him around and there was a clash of heads. Given the previous relationship between Haddow and the referee, the travelling fans expected Denham to be sent off for allowing his face to bruise Haddow's forehead. With a good view of the incident, Mr. Sims could see nothing wrong, and waved play on, although Denham did require treatment for a head injury and Celtic had to put it out of play.
Fortunately for the right sided players on Celtic's team, the referee called a halt to proceedings.
This was a highly competent performance by Celtic, winning by the same score-line as the last time the two teams met. With Barrow drawing at Ashton, and Vauxhall losing at home to Blyth, perhaps a second spot finish is not unrealistic!