Celtic's win in this reverse fixture came down to excellent finishing, as well as a total team performance. Alfreton were niggling, harrying and pressing everything, but Celtic stood tall. Alfreton's pressing won them a corner almost from the off, but the Celtic back line, bolstered by the very impressive Todd, saw off the corner.
Less than ten minutes into the game, Celtic broke away from the Alfreton pressure and mounted an attack of their own. The mercurial Potts twisted past Robinson, who shoved him bodily in the back sending Potts sprawling on the grass milliseconds after he had spread the ball to Mayers. Despite Mayers being in acres of space and a clear sight of goal, the referee decided to award the free kick. This looked like a mistake, of the type that dogged this official throughout the game. However, quick thinking from Potts gained just reward when he slipped the ball across the box to Eastwood as Alfreton were whinging about the decision. Eastwood nipped in ahead of Brown and side-footed home to give Celtic the lead.
Heald made an important tackle stopping Bettney down the wing, at the expense of an injury. He was replaced by Clegg who took Bowman's place. Bowman went to right back and Todd to left back. This move seemingly had a positive effect as Alfreton suddenly found it more difficult to break down either flank.
Alfreton continued whining to the referee who was having none of it. Once they had settled down enough to continue playing, Alfreton immediately won a pair of corners. The first Dootson collected, the second he punched clear. Dootson was again in action and on his toes when Godber flicked on a long throw that Dootson had to palm over the bar. Godber flicked the corner in the same way, this time over the bar.
It was on the counter where Celtic were hurting Alfreton and the speed and rapidity with which they moved the ball up the field after soaking up pressure was amazing. Potts dropped the ball to Foster who raced up the right channel before whipping in a cross for Eastwood steaming in at the back post. Unfortunately, Eastwood couldn't bend the ball into the net and it sliced narrowly wide.
However, goal of the season moments later made up for it. Dootson's long punt up the field was brought expertly down by Mayers to Potts. Potts twisted around Brown before swivelling at the edge of the box and driving a right foot shot low across the grass into the bottom corner well beyond the outstretched arm of Butler (I must say that Butler was probably the friendliest goalkeeper I've seen at Bower Fold, and joined in with the banter from the crowd in a pleasing way, especially considering he conceded three goals!).
In a rare mistake, Todd tried to chest the ball back to Dootson at the other end of the pitch, but Goddard nipped in on it. Only great reflexes from the Celtic number one smothering the ball at one half of the 'God-Squad's feet kept the sheet clean.
Dootson then made his job look easy when Godber stole in on a pinging ball to try and deflect it into the top corner. Dootson was there, earning his man of the match and making the catch look simple when it was anything but.
The Celtic number one continued to earn his pay as Alfreton pressed for a way into this game, Goddard shooting from distance right into Dootson's midriff.
And when Dootson was beaten, Bowker was there. Grayston's cross in was half volleyed by Godber past the out flung arm of Dootson, but Bowker, on the line, headed the ball clear as far as Bettney, who dropped the ball off to Nwadike. Alfreton's midfield battler eased the pressure on Celtic by shooting well wide.
Again Celtic punished Alfreton on the break. Eastwood trapped the ball on the edge of the box, and slipped it to Foster. Foster trapped the ball excellently before side-stepping past Brown. With his options running out, Foster found Mayers unmarked in the centre of the box with the perfect pass. Butler closed Mayers down, but Mayers dummied Butler with a simple-looking touch and then slipped the ball into the back of the net.
As the half began to run down, Godber latched onto a pass at the half way line and made a high speed bee-line for goal. Both Bowker and Pearce joined him, but were unable to halt his progress. As he entered the box, Godber stumbled. It looked for a moment like he might go down, and had he done so, this referee would have awarded a penalty, I have no doubt of that. However, Godber managed to extricate the ball from within his feet, but the shot when it finally came would have disappointed the handful of travelling fans behind the goal as it was wide.
Alfreton's half time team talk probably consisted of: "If you let them play, they'll tear you to pieces. Get stuck in. Forget all the niceties of football and get well and truly stuck in."
I say this because from the off whenever a Celtic player had the ball he was immediately hacked at by the Alfreton player closest to him. However, Celtic tried to play football, and Mayers nodded a ball down to Wharton at the edge of the box. Predictably, Wharton skied his shot. Worse was to come. Wharton went chasing out to the wing to harry Bettney, and instead brought down the Alfreton man. Quite rightly he was booked. Bettney wasn't finished though. bettney kneed Wharton in the back forcing the Celtic man to lose the ball. When the ball went for a throw Wharton and Bettney squared up to each other and suddenly everything erupted. There was shoving and pushing with both teams converging on the pair. Butler swung a fist in the melee (after running from his goal line) as did Bowker. Eventually, the players were separated, and the referee and both linesman had a long chat about the whole affair. For swinging fists Bowker and Butler were shown yellow cards, and that was that.
From that point on until nearly the end of the match, it was all about Alfreton. They won free kicks and corners aplenty with the linesmen and referee joining in the Alfreton tactic of breaking up any Celtic move. Many of the fouls given were blatantly not fouls, and nothing was being given Celtic's way. Alfreton had free reign to do as they pleased, it seemed.
At least 10 corners and a similar number of free kicks around the box were awarded to Alfreton, but the Celtic defence stood firm and denied access to the Celtic goal. The closest they got was half way through the half when Bowker conceded a corner denying Godber access to the box, and then cleared the ball as far as Nwadike. His shot was deflected for a second corner that fell to Bradshaw. The fullback's shot brought a great reaction save from Dootson.
Celtic did win a corner of their own soon after this, with another break away move. Potts decided to run from so deep that not even this linesman could call him offside. He still got to Foster's spread ball ahead of Robinson, took him on and beat him before lobbing the ball to the back post where Mayers looked dead certain to grab his second of the night. Brown had other ideas, heading the ball just past his own post with a last ditch header that left Mayers requiring treatment for a gash on the head. Robinson cleared the corner but only back to Potts who squared to Eastwood. Eastwood curled a beautiful shot towards the top corner, producing a top-notch save from Butler.
Alfreton were then denied by the cross bar when Bettney's cross on the run was headed out off the cross bar by Goddard.
As the game ran down Celtic had one last chance to increase their goal difference, but again the referee denied them. Eastwood's dinked lob over the defence was blatantly brought down with Blunt's hand in the box. The referee either did not see it, or deemed it unintentional - it must be the former, because there was no way it was the latter. Nevertheless, Potts stole the ball off Blunt (before he could hoof it into touch as he had been doing all night), but shot disappointingly wide.
Stoppage time didn't stop Alfreton from trying to grab a goal, and they managed to win another half dozen free kicks before the final whistle, however nothing was getting past this defence.
Alfreton were beaten recently by Celtic's next opponents, Gedling Town. This FA Cup tie, therefore, is going to be trickier than it sounds. Gedling are another unknown team from the depths of the non-league pyramid who are said to have the worst ground in the division. Hopefully Celtic will learn from Alfreton's mistake and not approach the game with anything other than total dedication. This is a game that Celtic must win at the first attempt in order to set them up for a tricky encounter with Droylsden two days later. If they can be as resolute in defence and as deadly in attack as they were tonight - then there's no reason to suspect anything other than this will be the case.