Match Report -
The Stand (and heavens) opens
By Ian Barker

A spell of tropical weather - alternating heat and rain - had left the pitch slick and green for this much anticipated match. Played in front of a decent crowd of 860 fans, and viewed from the magnificent heights of the Lord Pendry stand, it made for a fine spectacle to open the season at Bower Fold.

Despite going in 3-1 down at half time, it was Celtic who were the dominant attacking force in the first half. From the off, Caldecott, Eastwood, Potts and Foster were carving strips off the visitor's defence, and for a while it looked like an attack v defence training session. Eastwood shook off an early knock after colliding with keeper Drench to turn in a dazzling display of powerful running and sharp finishing. One such move involved Foster slipping in a neat pass from the right touchline, for Eastwood to swivel over, take on and beat two defenders, and then curl in a powerful low drive which dipped only marginally wide of the far post. Minutes later it was Phil again hitting a full-bodied volley goal-wards which brought a fine flying save from Drench. But before Eastwood could get on the score sheet, it was the visitors who snatched the lead in the 24th minute.

A corner from the left was met Filson-style on the edge of the six-yard box by the immensely strong Gordon Greer. His firm header left Dootson stranded. Only once before had Blackburn penetrated the Celtic defence, and that was early on when Dootson parried away a long distance screamer from Alan Mahon who was trying to capitalise on some sloppy work from the otherwise impressive Danny Hooper.

Eastwood's first half moment of glory came in the 38th minute when, following a neat one two down the left with Pottsy, the effervescent striker dribbled himself into a central shooting position, making his clipped shot over the keeper's diving body a simple matter.

Two Blackburn goals in the final three minutes of the half rather flattered the full-timers, even though their fitness levels and class on and off the ball were never in doubt.

First it was Ciccio Grabbi who decided to wake up from his afternoon siesta to give us a glimpse of why he once cost Rovers £6.75 million to buy. His drift around Darren Bowman on the edge of the penalty area and crisp drive down inside Dootson's near post both indicated that this player belongs in more distinguished company than those who surrounded him at Bower Fold today. Perhaps his laid-back approach to the match - stockings rolled down to his ankles allowing his tattooed calf muscles to glisten in the wet sunshine, total lack of emotion on scoring his goal - perhaps it was just his Italian nature, but it looked more like a genuine lack of interest in a game which he would rather not have been involved in. For the most part, Terry Bowker nullified his threat, and even put in one stupendous saving tackle five yards from goal when Grabbi had looked certain to score earlier in the half.

Rovers' third goal right on half time was embarrassingly easy as Donnelly just ran straight through the heart of Celtic's wilting defence leaving Dootson exasperated at the way in which Greg Pearce had allowed the Blackburn defender to ghost past him.

Celtic began the second half brightly. The flowing midfield passing game that was a feature of the first half, and which both Keeling and Hooper had dominated, was in evidence again as Celtic forced the pace. The save of the match was a flying leap from that man Drench again who somehow managed to turn away a ferocious 25 yard half volley from Hooper. His deflection was followed up by Potts, but the winger's sizzling drive was turned away by a defender who just happened to get in the way.

Just as Celtic threatened to come back into the match, the heavens opened as if precipitating the string of substitutions that followed for both teams. The result was a more disjointed second period but one which still offered up some fun moments.

The highlight was undoubtedly Celtic's second goal, a surgical headed strike from Captain Kev as he latched on to a swinging right wing cross from Darren Bowman. His searing header will certainly be up there amongst the goals of the season come next May.

A pity then that one of Blackburn's substitutes, Ian Black, should come on and fire in a fourth goal for the visitors in the 70th minute. Once again, Celtic's back line was AWOL. We can only be grateful that Unibond strikers do not possess the killer instincts of these professional players, and so are less likely to take advantage of what is still a creaking back four.

Celtic pulled it back to 4-3 five minutes from time when the excellent referee ( yes, the words 'excellent' and 'referee' in the same sentence) awarded the Blues a penalty as Blake Norton's in-swinging corner hung in the air high above a crowded goalmouth. He saw a push ( the rest of us saw loads of pushes) and pointed to the spot. Eastwood, showing he can score with his right foot just as he can with his left, cracked home the penalty just inside substitute keeper Nelson's left hand column. ( The original keeper had by this time gone off, Drenched.)

All in all, this was an entertaining game. The plus points include the improving midfield where the Parr, Hooper, Keeling line is demonstrating power, pace and precision; and the growing understanding between Foster and Eastwood, with Pottsy and Caldecott supplying quality passes in from the flanks.

The niggles include further defensive lapses - not to mention walkouts - and the continuing absence of Andy Payton.

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