This game was played at a frenetic pace by both teams, in the first half, but only by Hucknall in the second as Celtic ran out of steam. Some of the football on display was fantastic to watch. Were it not for two contentious decisions by the officials, the score line could have been oh so different.
Celtic had the better of the opening ten minutes with Potts tearing apart the left sided Town players, and in the opening minute could have, and should have, put Celtic in front. Bowman's early ball released him to run at the defence, he left Barrick trailing to go one-on-one with Nelson in the Town nets, but in his haste for glory, sliced his shot wide. Bowman and Potts were again involved moments later when Bowman's cross was flicked on by Potts to Keeling, but at full stretch, Keeling put the ball wide of the target.
After some outstanding passing, Wharton looped a ball into the box for Mayers, only for Soar to slice a clearance just over his own bar, and from the corner, Wharton mimicked this from thirty yards shooting high.
Hucknall were playing attractive, fast paced football that Celtic matched, and it began to pay dividends for them ten minutes in when Bacon trapped a cross on his chest, turned and shot from the edge of the area, fortunately shooting wide. McCarthy tried his luck from thirty yards, but did a 'Wharton' as it is officially known, spectacularly clearing the bar. The unreasonably tall Sale was a constant aerial threat, but only for his knock downs, one such fell to Hunter, but his header was wide.
As the attacks see-sawed up and down the pitch, Mayers was held by Gaunt (who was having a torrid time). Mayers flicked the free kick into the danger area, but Nelson was alert, and claimed ahead of Eastwood. Mayers got another chance when Heald's cross was only half cleared as far as him on the edge of the box, his cracking shot brought an excellent reflex save from Nelson, tipping the ball over the bar. Unfortunately Mayers was then adjudged to have fouled Hunter in the box from the corner, relieving the pressure on the beleaguered Hucknall defence.
Bacon took advantage of this to have a shot of his own from the edge of the box, latching onto a high bouncing ball, but the shot was a comfortable save for Dootson. Sale, too, tried to take advantage of the high bounce to perform a bicycle kick from the edge of the six yard box, though Bowker was in his way, conceding a corner, and getting them both injured in the process.
Celtic finally got their reward, but not before some shenanigans from Sale and the ref. Potts raced past Barrick, only for the left back to yank him back. The ref gave the free kick that Potts took straight away, feeding the ball to Eastwood. Celtic's top striker shrugged off the attentions of Soar and slotted the ball past the keeper. The referee then decided to disallow the goal because he wasn't ready! From the retake of the free kick, Sale cleared the ball, landing on his back side in the process - claiming injury as play raged on he was suddenly fine when the ball came to him, athletically stretching to clear the ball as far as Wharton at the edge of the box. Barrick crashed into Wharton with a two footed lunge conceding a second (or third!) free kick and earning a yellow card. For his part, Sale got a stiff talking too for feigning injury. Wharton knocked the free kick to Potts, who looped the ball over the top of everybody, including Nelson, off the crossbar, off the post, and into the back of the net.
Hucknall tried for the instant reply, with Sale finding Pearce in the way of his turn and shot. The corner came to McCarthy, but he headed wide.
Foster collected the goal kick and raced at the defence. To be fair, a square ball to Mayers unmarked in the box would have been the preferable option, instead he took it too far and only won a corner off Winder. The keeper punched the corner out for a second corner that fell to Wharton at the edge of the box. For a change, Wharton kept his shot down, but there were too many bodies between him and goal, and it rebounded to safety. Celtic soon won another corner, this time Potts' cross blocked by Barrick. It came to Pearce who rifled his volley past Nelson, only to see his shot headed off the line by Winder.
The game continued to be played at a fast pace as the half time whistle approached, and it almost allowed Hucknall to equalise when McCarthy latched onto a lax clearance from Bowker to go one-on-one with Dootson, only a superb save from Dootson with his legs kept Celtic's advantage.
Potts collected the clearance on the half way line and raced goal-ward. He slipped to the left of Burns, to the right of Winder and dummied Gaunt superbly before getting one-on-one with Nelson - as he had done in the first minute, Potts' final shot was wide.
Seconds before the interval whistle, Barrick got forward and put in a sublime cross for Bacon, whose header brought out a super save from Dootson.
Nobody believed that either team could continue to play at the same pace in the second half, and indeed, Celtic could not. Hucknall, however, could and did.
However, it was Celtic that should have increased the lead in the first few moments of the half. Eastwood under pressure from Winder and Asher put the ball into empty space beyond them. Potts ran after the ball and Nelson came tearing off his line. Potts was always the favourite and Nelson was off balance as Potts slotted the ball past him. The tannoy announcement started to read his name, and the referee started to point to the centre circle until he noticed the linesman flag. From somewhere, the linesman had decided that Potts had been offside. This would prove to be a turning point in the match.
As if still in shock, the Celtic defence stood off McCarthy in the box allowing him the time to poke the ball between Pearce and Bowker into the corner of the net, eliciting a disproportionately large cheer from the small band of travelling supporters. Buoyed Hucknall, if anything, stepped it up another gear, and Celtic suddenly couldn't reach the ball. Sale finally used his height to direct a header goal ward, only to see another excellent save from the Celtic keeper deny him.
McCarthy went down under the slight breeze of Mayers' passing, and the referee allowed this free kick to be taken quickly (inconsistency is the bane of my life). From this, Hucknall won a corner off Bowker. Dootson punched the corner clear, fortunately. However, this Hucknall team have plenty of goals in them, and they were soon back at Celtic's back line. Bacon beat Heald and put a low cross beyond the range of Pearce and Dootson. Bowker peeled off with Sale, and Hunter steamed into the box unmarked to side foot home.
Bacon almost made a fool of Dootson when a stabbed shot from McCarthy's cross nearly dribbled through Dootson's legs, but the Celtic number one was far too canny and stopped it before it crossed the line.
Hucknall proceeded to pepper the Celtic box with crosses and corners, with Bacon getting closest with a header over before he got another chance off Sale's cross that required a to-notch save from Dootson to leave Celtic with a chance of an equaliser as time was running down.
And the equaliser should have come! Potts got one-on-one with Nelson, but the ball bobbled between his feet. As the defence converged, he somehow smuggled it out to Eastwood, but again, the ball got trapped between his feet. With the defence now converging on Eastwood, he smuggled it to Mayers trundling into the box at full tilt. Mayers' shot was smothered by a grateful Nelson.
Celtic brought Wheatcroft on for the last few minutes of the game, but it was not enough time for the new boy to change the outcome, and Celtic were left rueing the disastrous pair of decisions that ruled out two perfectly good goals. There's a long trip to the North East on Saturday when Celtic face unknowns Guisborough Town in the FA Cup. Celtic need to progress in this competition to bolster flagging egos and finances. Another performance like this one would see off lesser teams than Hucknall, it just seems that Celtic save their best performances for the better teams, but on this occasion, their best just wasn't quite good enough.