On a very warm evening Celtic had to not only battle determined opposition, but also a referee who appeared more jaded this late into the season than the players. There were numerous bizarre decisions made, which fortunately did not affect the outcome of this game, but will probably impact on the rest of the season for both teams thanks to the man in black.
Celtic had the kick off and attacked straight away. Potts and Eastwood interchanged, getting a lucky wall pass off Bennett putting Eastwood into the box. However, his shot was weak as he struggled to get the ball under control, and Taylor saved quite comfortably.
Despite their lowly position in the league, their Trophy form translated onto the pitch into some fine passing and movement from the home side, especially Lawless who matched Potts for trickery and ball control. Hyman was no slouch either, as he proved when he stole in on Caldicott's poor clearance header to steam on goal, but his shot was weak and wide.
As the opening salvos seesawed from end to end, it looked like it would be an entertaining game, but the central defender Taylor, put his namesake in the goals under a lot of pressure with a poor back pass that allowed Potts to steam in. The keeper mis-controlled the back-pass, and was fortunate to see it trickle wide for a corner. The corner was yet more inventiveness from Celtic, with Potts playing it short to Hooper, who turned and put it back into Potts' path as he entered the box. Potts shot immediately, but shot narrowly wide.
Bowker, at the other end, was having a torrid time trying to contain Martindale, Hyman and Norman. It was the latter's run that Bowker was adjudged to have stopped illegally despite easily coming away with the ball, that gave Burscough their first free kick in a dangerous area. Norman took it quickly, finding Martindale just inside the box. He turned Pearce with a drop of the shoulder, but had forgotten where the goal was, sending his shot well wide.
Martindale was soon bringing the ball back at Celtic's net, when a great tackle from the side dispossessed him and sent him flying over Bowker's body. The referee adjudged this one illegal too, and gave Bowker a yellow card for two great tackles in as many minutes. This time Norman went for goal, but Parr was on hand to head it clear of the box, but only as far as Norman. Norman squared it immediately to Martindale, and though his shot was on target this time, it was weak and right at Dootson.
Celtic moved up a gear and left Burscough chasing shadows as they spread the ball around the pitch with some great passing movements. However, Clegg was dispossessed by Bluck. As the fullback went to clear it, Mayers jumped across, blocking the ball, and rebounding it back to Clegg. With only Eastwood in the box accompanied by four defenders, it needed a superb cross, and that's exactly what Eastwood got. Right onto his feet that allowed him to take the ball around Bennett with one touch, drawing Taylor. As Taylor went to his left, Eastwood lifted the ball with the outside of his boot to the right and into the net! A fine Celtic move was finished in just fashion.
Potts was sent off on a sprint by Clegg, but with no options open, crossed hopefully into the box. Bluck's block conceded the corner, but Potts' corner was straight into the box, and easily cleared by the tall central pairing. The play switched immediately down the other end, and Bowker was allowed to make a great tackle without penalty though he did concede the corner. Parr, in the centre of the box, got to Norman's corner first, and Mayers hooked it clear.
Both Celtic central defenders were getting the measure of their men, and when Lawless tried to turn Pearce, Pearce was having none of it, and made a sliding tackle of Premiership class to deny him a shot at the expense of a corner. Dootson caught and released Caldicott with a long throw that sent the nippy full back off on a run. He cut inside to Eastwood who went for a cross, but Underwood got a leg in the way to concede the corner. Taylor did well judging the flight of the ball to steal it off the forehead of Pearce.
Lawless again found the Celtic defenders in top form as he twisted into the box, but a sliding tackle from Dootson was enough to smuggle the ball back to Dootson, calls for a pass-back were waved away, and to be fair, that decision was probably correct. Moments later though, Lawless evaded Bowker's challenge and went one-on-one with Dootson. The Celtic number one was off his line quickly, and made an exceptionally good save with his legs. It wasn't long before Martindale managed to smuggle the ball between Clegg and Bowker, twisting and turning into the box, but his shot was well wide of the mark, troubling the linesman more than Dootson.
In between Burscough pressure, Celtic did manage to trouble the defence at the other end. Clegg and Potts traded passes well, before Clegg slid the ball to Mayers. Mayers shielded that ball well, but with a lack of options, turned Bennett and curled the ball for the top corner. Taylor reacted well, with what he made look like a comfortable catch, but was probably anything but.
Then it was back to the Burscough pressure. Bowker producing an other great tackle in the box to deny Hyman an easy route to goal, and when Lawless evaded everybody, Bowman got back to steal the ball off his feet as he broke into the box, though at the expense of a corner. Norman's ball in was flicked on by Lawless at the edge of the box to Hyman at the back post. But Hyman was leaning backwards, and his header sailed over the bar. Burscough must have sensed that they could wear down the defence, and kept up the pressure, mainly through Lawless. A great dummy left Clegg looking at a corner flag, and it was followed by a shot of equal quality that beat Dootson, but not Pearce, hacking the ball off the line for Bowman to hoof away.
Such was the pressure that Bowker conceded an unnecessary corner, obviously believing he didn't have the time to control the ball, when he headed wide Lawless' cross. Norman's corner fell to Hyman, and Dootson made an outstanding point-blank save that allowed Parr time to hack it clear.
Another bizarre decision from the referee saw Pearce get booked. Pearce and Hyman tangled for the ball, it was difficult to see in the tangled legs, but Pearce was left on the floor, and Hyman was running one-on-one with Dootson. The referee blew his whistle, and Hyman scooped up the ball and threw it down in disgust - remember that, for Hyman wasn't booked. Pearce was, however, for the challenge that the referee thought severe enough to stop an obvious Burscough advantage, despite Hyman thinking that it had been he in the wrong! The free kick went over everybody's head for a goal kick. Dootson's kick didn't have time to reach the half way line before the half time whistle blew.
Celtic came off the blocks at full speed, looking to catch Burscough sleeping. Mayers controlled a Potts cross perfectly on the edge of the box, turned and shot. Bluck absolutely used his hands to block the ball on the penalty spot, playing Parr in. Was a penalty awarded? Nope. Despite having a great position on the incident, the referee decided that Parr was offside. First, how is handball not a penalty, especially when denying an obvious goal scoring chance (his hands were at waist height and - ahem - protecting himself - perhaps that was it?). Secondly, after striking a defender and going out to Parr, how could he be offside?
Having survived the vagaries of referee's decisions, Burscough mounted their attacks again. Lawless getting in a great cross to Hyman, whose nodded down ball produced another point blank save from Dootson. But Celtic knew that they had to find a second goal to make the game safe, given Burscough's relentless pressure. Mayers and Eastwood tried to conjure this up with great one two passing that allowed Eastwood a shot on goal. Underwood's leg denied the thirty-goal striker at the expense of a corner. The corner fell to Bowman, and this time it was Bluck's arm that deflected the ball - possibly accidental.
If anybody thought that the referee was simply not giving handballs, then they were mistaken. Bowker was adjudged to have handballed just outside his own area, whilst being pulled off his feet by Hyman. Fortunately, Norman's free kick was straight into the wall and Pearce sent Clegg on a run. As Celtic broke Clegg decided he needed nobody else as a path opened up for him to goal. His strike from just outside the box is possibly still travelling as it missed by the merest fraction of an inch.
Martindale then started another scare inn the Celtic defence, when he found some space at the Celtic end and unleashed a fearsome drive that Dootson blocked but it was still going goal bound until Pearce cleared almost off the line, striking Hyman, and falling to Caldicott who finally got it clear.
Something had to break eventually, and controversially it did.
As Burscough's pressure looked like it might tell, the referee got whistle happy, sounding like a raver he was blowing that hard. He ran over to Underwood on the far side of the pitch and immediately showed him a red card! For what, I don't know, but possibly for something the full back said rather than did. There was an awful lot of pushing and shoving on the referee from the the rest of the Burscough players incensed at this amazing turn of events, and Martindale got shown yellow for his part in that.
So shaken up were they that when Eastwood had a shot that produced a good diving save from Taylor, Bowen steamed in and tackled his own keeper, hoofing the ball into touch for a corner, though it could have gone anywhere including his own net. Bluck saved his teammates blushes by ensuring that he reached the corner first and getting it clear.
Within moments, the referee was at it again! When Martindale knocked the ball slightly too far ahead of himself, Pearce hacked it clear. Free kick to Burscough. Martindale looked as perplexed as Pearce. Norman took the free kick sending it at least fifteen feet too high for everybody. Linesman said goal kick - referee said corner. Hooper blocked the corner at the near post at the expense of a second corner, which fell for Hyman. His shot from inside the box was somehow blocked on the line by Hooper and scrambled unconvincingly clear.
Celtic Captain Kevin Parr then played Bowker off the field - literally. A short pass was too shot, allowing Hyman to nip in, Bowker had to stretch for it, Hyman went over the leg, and that was a real yellow card - unfortunately, it was Bowker's second, and the two teams were even again. Fortunately the free kick was poor, though when Bowman latched onto Norman's knocked ball to run away with the ball, both Bowman and Norman were surprised at the free kick given - especially as Bowman had been a good foot away from Norman when he took the ball. Again the free kick was 15 feet too high, and again the referee overruled his linesman to give the corner, despite nobody on the field being twenty-one feet tall.
Caldicott cut out the corner at the expense of a second, and that one was wasted.
Denham was brought on for the tiring Potts, and ran straight past Bowen, leaving him on the floor. Bowen grabbed Denham's legs and held on as the nippy striker tried to wriggle free before eventually collapsing. The referee stood not ten feet from the incident saw nothing wrong with this and allowed Taylor to clear.
As if trying to top his own feats, the referee not only headed the ball to Eastwood, breaking up a promising Burscough attack, he then gave Burscough the initiative when Bowen's tackle and hoof went out of play by awarding the throw to Burscough, despite the judgment of his linesman (why have them?). Caldicott who had collected the ball couldn't believe that decision and threw the ball into the floor. Remember earlier when I said remember Hyman did exactly this? Well Caldicott got a yellow card.
The long throw into the box was headed behind by Mayers for a corner. The Burscough keeper came up field for the corner, leaving a yawning net. When Bowman headed it clear to Denham, nobody would have complained had he shot from eighty yards and missed, but instead Denham tried to take the ball up field a little bit, and as the defence started to reach him, cut it inside for Mayers, who still had an opportunity to shoot into the empty net from forty yards, but instead he took it to the corner flag to while away the remaining seconds.
I feel that the referee had quite a poor game. I'm sure that he felt that the decisions he made were justified, but from my stand point, both teams could feel aggrieved. The overruling of his assistants, the denying of at least one clear cut penalty, the blatant holding of Denham's legs, the sending off of Underwood when a bit of common sense was required, the lack of constancy in decisions over Caldicott's yellow card, the not playing advantage when Hyman was in a great position with only Dootson to beat. Refereeing is a difficult and demanding job as this one proved today.
Apart from that, the Celtic defence, and Dootson included, had an outstanding game. They had a lot to do, and they did it well. Bowker's second yellow was more down to Parr asking too much of him than of his own doing - but in the end, the referee was right to send Bowker off. How this plays out for the rest of the season we have yet to see. With German injured and Bowker out, there will be a definite shortage of people at the back.