This was not the traditional end-of-season game with nothing to play for. Last season saw Celtic thumped 8-0 by Woking, the season before, a party-mood team relaxed too far allowing Burscough 2 goals - in both cases the on-pitch display was expected. Against Woking, Celtic were down and out; against Burscough they had been crowned champions and not even the Linnets could stop the party.
This game was a different story.
Blyth had come here seeking revenge for the early season 4-1 drubbing, and perhaps for two seasons ago when Celtic dumped them out of the FA Cup, beat them in two league matches and a President's Cup final, a cup, incidentally, Celtic had won 48 hours previously. Thus in the last five encounters, Celtic had scored 17 goals against them. Who wouldn't want revenge knowing Celtic's end of season record! Their desire to win this game was obvious, but if not from a little "black luck" Blyth could have been looking at a very different result…
The black luck for Blyth started almost immediately when Clubman of the year, Kenny Mayers and Morton met in the centre of the park innocuously, but somehow, a free kick was generated. This was floated into the box, where Bowker had to be on his toes to slide in and rob Emerson at the expense of a corner. Emerson must have been extremely frustrated, for Bowker had shielded him all the way across the face of goal, denying him a clear target. Parr cleared the corner as far as Phillips who put it straight back into the mixer. Dootson came into the crowd and collected comfortably.
But the first real chance fell not to a striker, but to the Young Player of the Year - Danny Caldicott. Potts struggling to find an opening in a resolute Spartan defence squared to Parr. The Celtic Captain saw the young fullback racing towards goal and put the ball into his path. Caldicott didn't need an invitation, he struck the ball cleanly, and Naisbett tipped the ball over the bar for a Celtic corner. Hooper slipped as he went to connect, allowing Blyth a chance to clear.
Supporters' player of the year and Golden Boot winner, Phil Eastwood, controlled a German cross with apparent ease, evaded Emerson's career threatening challenge only to find Kegan wrapping both legs around his. Eastwood disentangled himself from the attention and snapped off a shot that was disappointingly over. However, it wasn't long before he managed to get past all the defensive attention once again to float an extremely high cross into the box. Potts and the Spartans' keeper, Naisbett both went for the ball. Potts won! The ball fell to Mayers, but he was obviously so shocked that Potts had managed to beat the keeper to a high ball, and obviously assumed there must have been a foul that Forster nipped in and banged the ball clear as far as Hooper, who well and truly ended the spell of Celtic pressure by slicing the ball well wide.
Caldicott and Dixon clashed forty yards from goal, Caldicott's foot was high, and the referee awarded a free kick. Justice was served when Morton floated the free kick over the bar. As though trying to impress the jury in one last match, Caldicott was everywhere, as soon as Celtic brought it out, he was racing up the park and sliding a ball to Potts. Potts turned on the edge of the box shooting past his marker. Naisbett saved well, and collected on the second attempt. Celtic were looking fluid, but Naisbett was on top of his game. Moments later, Wharton found Potts with a sweeping cross that Potts lifted over the defence to Mayers. The big striker nodded the ball down, but once again Naisbett was equal to the task.
It was somewhat against the run of play when Blyth took the lead, though the Celtic defence looked a little static during the whole affair. Perry ran around Bowman to pull the ball back to the edge of the box for Emerson, who slid the ball across the face of Dootson between Bowker and German to Hutton arriving at speed who made simple work of the ball, side-footing it home.
There was a brief pause in the play as a dog entered the field of play, and proceeded to find both Robson and Emerson eminently to its liking. Eventually Wharton led it off by making it follow a ball.
When the game restarted, Celtic appeared to have lost a little momentum. Emerson again got into a good position, found this time by Little, he looked unmarked, but somehow, Supporters' Association player of the year, Dave German, read his intention and blocked his shot with a an outstretched leg. The rebound fell nicely to Perry who touched it on to Phillips. From close range it looked a certain goal, but Dootson (who only narrowly missed out on Supporters' player of the year) made an excellent point-blank save and Parr got it properly clear. But not for long as the visitors took advantage of the stuttering Celtic. Morton dummied German and snapped off a shot that cleared the bar and Caldicott had to use every ounce of speed to get between the ball and Emerson at the expense of a corner that German headed right to Phillips. Fortunately his shot lacked power and was right at Dootson. Emerson repeated this when he battled his way past Bowker, and squeezed off a half-hearted shot straight at the Celtic number one.
Celtic tried to get their act into gear and Potts pushed the ball into the overlapping run from Bowman, but Morton cut out the cross for a corner, that Potts swung across the face and out for a goal kick. Potts did managed to retrieve the ball and win another corner a few minutes later off Little, but the time it was spread out to German and he put it out for a goal kick instead. Bowman and Potts interchanged again as the half was running down, Potts fed it to Parr, but he hesitated a fraction of a second and Forster whacked the ball clear. Potts was again involved, but only because Little couldn't get the ball off him, so up-ended the nippy winger. Potts took the free kick to the back post, where Kegan headed clear as far as Potts. Potts dropped the ball down to Hooper who immediately squared it to Eastwood. Without more ado, Eastwood blasted goal bound. It struck Dixon on the way out for a corner. Celtic were getting back into their stride.
It couldn't last. Naisbett caught the corner without any pressure and soon Emerson was attacking the Celtic goal yet again. He lifted the ball over the Celtic defence to Robson who managed to stay on side (somehow). He had no time to prepare, for Dootson came rushing out of his goal and smashed the ball clear almost off his feet. Blyth kept coming though, and Robson was soon back in the box teeing up a shot. He reckoned without Kevin Parr who slid in and dispossessed him with a beautifully timed challenge. Getting no luck the traditional way, Emerson adopted Brazilian tactics. German was a simple bystander as Emerson leapt into him, and with a cry flung himself to the floor to win a free kick off a referee that was obviously not watching. Fortunately, Captain Parr was on hand to head over his own crossbar. Parr then headed the corner out ahead of Kegan. Naturally, this is a goal kick as the officials decided that Kegan must have headed wide. Then it was Phillips turn to con the referee. Bowman made an excellent tackle on Phillips, but the Spartan managed a good half dozen rolls earning the free kick and a yellow card for Bowman, despite Bowman still having the ball at his feet! Again, Blyth's set pieces were poor, and it went fifty yards for a goal kick. As the game went into extended stoppage time, Bowker ran shoulder to shoulder with Emerson from the half way line into the box before getting that inch far enough ahead of him to slide in and poke the ball out for a corner. Hooper headed the corner wide for a second corner, but the referee had seen enough and blew for half time.
Denham was brought on for the struggling Hooper at the interval, and his first touch was to enliven the game as he burst into the Blyth box almost from restart. Forster blocked his excellent rasping drive. And when Celtic did manage to break past Forster and Kegan, Naisbett was having the game of his life as he proved when Potts fed Eastwood at the edge of the box. Eastwood turned Kegan as though he was a pillar and blasted low and hard that produced a stunning save from Naisbett.
Caldicott then proved that Millers' half time team talk had been an ear-burning one when Eastwood put the ball into his path, although he was fifty yards from goal, he let loose a thunderous drive that would have taken the net off had it not been a scant inch over the bar.
Celtic were definitely back in this game, and Bowman got a rare visit forward, lobbing a ball to Parr who attempted to head a looping ball over the keeper into the top corner, but Naisbett was acrobatic enough to pluck it out of the air.
In a rare turn of play, Robson broke up field to latch onto a poorly controlled German ball. German reacted by attempting to win the ball back, and ended up scything Robson down thirty yards from goal. It was a good job Dootson was alert, as he was arranging his wall, Robson took the shot, and Dootson caught easily.
Then it started to get silly. Mayers brought the ball into the box only to be clearly brought down by Little. When Caldicott picked up the ball, it was an even more obvious trip from Little that the referee chose to ignore. Mr Dunn was had a great view of the incident, and determined that there had been no contact. I state for the record that this is rubbish - twice there was contact - I too was close (three yards from both fouls). Little knows, Mayers and Caldicott both know, Little should have walked for either challenge, and Celtic should have been awarded a penalty. Even the Blyth manager knew that Little was at fault, because not long after he took him off. This was especially true because Caldicott knew so well that he'd been fouled, that he instigated a little bit of afters. The referee saw this, and booked Little! A chant of "You Don't Know What You're Doing" was possibly the only chant reproducible here.
From the drop ball restart, Mayers won the drop and laid off Eastwood. Eastwood put the ball across the face of Naisbett and struck the post.
Another bizarre decision followed almost immediately: Wharton, running with the ball towards Naisbett, at the half way line, Hutton slides in. The ball continues on towards the Blyth end, but Wharton doesn't. This is plainly a free kick to Blyth, and indeed, this is what is granted.
Celtic were now in top gear and passing the ball like demons. They knew to get anything out of this game they had to produce the goods and they were fired up by the crazy "black luck" Blyth were having. Wharton found Denham with a long range cross that Denham brought under control and pulled back to the edge of the box to Potts. Potts' attempted to lob the keeper, but struck Forster and won a corner instead. Parr reached the header first and cleanly. Kegan nodded it around the post. Goal kick - well we'd seen that decision at the other end earlier, so it came as no surprise.
When Bowker surgically removed the ball from Emerson's feet, there was more argy-bargy. Emerson waded in with arms flying and (Gods' honest truth) judo threw Bowker to the floor. Dootson came into pull his defender out of the melee, and as more players arrived, the referee consulted with his black committee (all three of them) before handing out a yellow card to Dootson for trying to be a peacemaker, and eventually (with some help over the tanoy) locating Emerson to give him a yellow card.
Celtic eventually got to take their free kick (the referee's conference took about four minutes). Denham took it into the box, and tried a shot through a crowd of legs, but Naisbett hardly struggled in reaching it. Caldicott was getting closer as well. German pushed the ball into his path after an initial poor first touch, and Caldicott from twenty-five yards took the paintwork off the crossbar.
As if to prove his powers of observation, the referee gave Perry a yellow card for a plain elbow long before the ball arrived off the goal kick. Fortunately, it was Parr he elbowed - anybody else would have been concussed, eh Kev? It wasn't the end of Parr's tribulations. As soon as the ball arrived into the box from the free kick the Keeper landed on him, thus earning Blyth a free kick.
Williams, the player brought on for the hotheaded Little proved no better. When Denham turned him like a new leaf, Williams just hauled him off his feet just outside the box. Being outside of the area marked in referee's heads as 'anything goes zone', this was a foul, which Parr headed over the bar. However, Celtic were now getting desperate, flinging cross after cross into the box. Forster granted Potts a corner off one, which fell to German. German lobbed it into the box, and received it back twice before Potts was adjudged to have handled in the area. There had been a handball; it was how Forster had got the ball to go for a corner in the first place. A third penalty decision turned down!
Denham and Eastwood made a naturally looking pairing that seemed to be able to read each other's minds. Eastwood showed this when he chested down a Clegg cross into Denham's path, it was only a shame Denham scuffed his shot, allowing Naisbett an easy catch.
Bowker then earned a yellow card despite pulling off one of the best tackles I have seen him make. Parr, as Captain tried to protest, but the referee obviously missed the armband, because he booked Parr. Another poor set piece - too high - too wide.
Celtic finally pulled level with the two fullbacks linking up well. Caldicott fed Clegg, his ball in was met by the head of Hallows ahead of Kegan over the keeper and under the bar. It should have been more moments later when Hallows kept in a hopeful ball and pulled it back for Potts. Potts' shot was somehow blocked by Forster as far as Caldicott, his shot was diverted by Dixon - again the strange rule came into force, and it was a goal kick.
Wharton then earned a yellow card for watching Perry slip. He was stood a good three feet from the Blyth player when Perry tried to turn and lost his footing. Bowker easily got to the free kick first and headed clear. However, Blyth were riding their wave of Black Luck. Emerson, clearly offside was found with a ball over the top, he squared to Robson, but Dootson read it well and collected off the feet off Robson.
Denham raced past Morton and pulled ball back for Hallows. It was too high for Hallows, but he had brought the defenders with him, leaving Potts to control and shoot - from the penalty spot, Potts put it wide. Naisbett kept the scores level when he pulled off a great save from an Eastwood volley, and a rather scuffed shot from just outside the box also from Eastwood though on the second one, Eastwood did have Forsters' hands wrapped around his shirt. It was to be just about the final act of the game.
At least we didn't lose! However Blyth did get their revenge. Vauxhall drew in their final fixture with Marine - had Celtic won, they would have been third, instead of fourth on goal difference!