Match Report -
Now you see him, now you don't
By Debbie Taylor

This game saw the introduction of two new faces into the Celtic line up, Sharooz Naraghi and Lee Pryers both had introductions whilst Chris Scott was inexplicably missing, and Hugh McAuley got injured whilst training on Thursday night.

Runcorn, on the other hand, came into this game after losing a manager.

Both sides started with intent, passing the ball around in a meaningful, but ultimately pointless way, with Mayers coming the closest of the twenty outfielders, though his shot was weak and wide.

Daly was the main target man for Runcorn, and when the two sides had settled, it was his wastrel nature that kept the Linnets off the score-sheet for as long as they were.

He got numerous chances, mainly as he seemed quicker at judging the bounce of the ball than Bowker, and got past the Celtic defender on numerous occasions because of it. However, he shot at Dootson twice (requiring excellent saves), and missed with the remainder of his opportunities.

Courtney, an ex-Celt, was gifted a glorious opportunity when he found himself in the middle of the park with the goal in his sights, and nobody defending. He snapped off a powerful shot, but again, it straight at Dootson, who stung his hands catching it.

If McMillan, the Runcorn keeper, was getting bored watching all the action down the opposite end, he reacted well when a superb Mayers through ball freed Potts, and Potts brought an outstanding save out of McMillan. Celtic hadn't finished there. Pearce brought the ball out of defence, had a one-two with Mayers putting him into the box, but Salt hadn't read the script and toe-poked the ball away from Pearce's feet. Celtic soon won it back and were attacking the visitors again, this time Mayers knocking the ball down to Eastwood, but with the turn he had to make to get away a shot, it was amazing he got it as close to goal as he did.

Courtney became the player closest to scoring half way through the half, when he latched onto a high-bouncing ball and snapped off a shot from a narrow angle that beat Dootson, but not Pearce, who headed clear off the line. Price then decided to have a go himself from out by the wing. It was probably a cross, but the wing caught it, and Dootson was obviously surprised by the effort, even so, he managed to palm the ball away for Pearce to clear.

Celtic, though, couldn't seem to keep the ball down when shooting. Some excellent approach play saw Celtic utilise everybody on the pitch, including a Mayers back flick to Eastwood that Nolan used to half clear as far as Bowman, but when the ball came to Eastwood, he shot over the bar. Moments later Eastwood's persistence resulted in a cross over the top of the defence to Potts, who cut inside and dropped the ball off to Mayers. Despite the presence of two defenders, Mayers' shot was powerful, and only just wide.

If Wheatcroft had been guilty of a loss of confidence last week, this week it was the turn of Kielty, who found himself in the box with no-one but the keeper to beat. Instead of taking the shot he took the pass, and the moment was gone. No such qualms from Eastwood, as soon as Potts' launched his cross, it was obvious Eastwood was going to nod it into the back of the net. Obvious to everybody but Spearrit who headed the ball off the line with McMillan completely wrong footed.

Runcorn continued to waste chance after chance. When Pearce came across to mark Courtney, Leadbetter sneaked in at the back post and blasted his shot right across the face of goal and out.

Celtic, slowly, were beginning to find the target more, and it took an outstanding top draw save from McMillan to deny Mayers when he hooked a bouncing ball over his shoulder with plenty of power aimed at the top corner. McMillan must have had springs for feet as he clawed the ball away from the goal and out for a corner. Price cleared the corner twice. Once straight from Potts' cross, and then again when Potts crossed it back in.

Runcorn finally made Celtic pay for allowing them too much time at the back. A long throw was taken down by Leadbetter and curled around Dootson into the back of the net a minute before half time.

There was still time for Potts to almost equalise before the whistle though, when Nolan wrapped both hands around Mayers neck to tackle him to the ground well within Potts range. Potts curled the ball over the wall and down towards the far corner, but again McMillan was on top form to deny Celtic's free kick specialist with a super-save. McMillan did it again seconds later and seconds before half time. Bowker came steaming in onto a corner and headed the ball down and to the side of McMillan, but the Linnet's keeper got down to smother the ball in the packed area.

At half time, Celtic brought on Foster and Naraghi for Heald and Eastwood. Surprisingly, it was Foster who went up front.

Runcorn started the second half with a double corner, but failed to make an impact with either before Potts took the ball down the far end of the pitch, stepped around Harris, and went one-on-one with McMillan. The visiting keeper was off his line quickly and Potts tried to chip the ball over him, but it got caught in the swirling wind and cleared the crossbar.

It looked as though Celtic were suffering from over-the-bar syndrome once again, when Foster's excellent run and fancy footwork saw him break into the box before a cheeky back-heal set Pryers up with a superb chance that he put over the bar. Naraghi picked up the ball in the middle of the park and brought it to the edge of the box before swapping possession with Mayers who slid the ball out to Foster. The defence were still watching Naraghi's run leaving Foster unmarked inside the box, but he leant back and put the ball over the bar.

Clegg was clattered just outside the box by Daly, Kielty got onto the free kick, and became the fourth Celtic player to put his shot over the bar.

Runcorn didn't stand and try and defend their slender lead, they tried to double it, and came close when Leadbetter again judged the bounce of the ball better than Bowker to go one-on-one with Dootson, Dootson was out of his area quickly and made a great save with his legs to deny Leadbetter, and got back to his line in time to watch McGinn's effort sale high and wide. A better chance fell to Daly when Dootson lost the flight of a high cross in the son, and for Pryers to be too short to challenge the unnecessarily tall Daly, but Daly headed over the bar from six yards.

McGinn fouled Foster twenty yards from goal with Foster going nowhere and trying to find a pass. It was to prove more costly than letting him find the pass because Colin Potts curled the ball low around the wrong side of the wall completely fooling McMillan who did really well to get a hand onto the ball, but not well enough to keep it out. Celtic had equalised.

But not for long.

Bowker again lost out with a bouncing ball, this time to Price who raced onto it and cut a ball back for Daly who side-footed home from a yard. Celtic had it all to do again, and a lot less time to do it in.

The bounce on the Celtic turf must have been very strange, because it was flummoxing Bowker every time, and Daly had a chance to put the game beyond Celtic when he again judged it to half-volley past Dootson and out off the post.

Celtic gather themselves up, and took the game to Runcorn. There was some excellent approach play, Naraghi with a one-two with Potts before feeding Mayers who dropped the ball straight out to Clegg running into the box, but the makeshift fullback hit the side netting. Naraghi was then substituted for Wheatcroft. The substitute substituted! Obviously the manager knew what he was doing, but to the fans on the terracing, the decision looked bizarre and could signal the end of Naraghi's time at the club, after 31 minutes!

The referee had been having a good game up until the last ten minutes when he seemed to lose it completely. His assistant called to his attention a serious breach of the rules off the ball. Carragher who'd been tackled by Foster got up and attacked Foster. The referee did not see it, but the linesman presumably told him what happened. Carragher was pretending to be injured, and while the referee was talking to Foster ran off to hide. He knew he was going to be red-carded. Foster had done really well to contain his volatile temper and had not responded to the attack at all. The referee, after looking around for Carragher, and checking several shirts found him and issued a yellow card! Celtic have had players dismissed for a fraction of the offence!

Celtic, their admonishment from manager and board about the disciplinary record just got on with the game. Potts' had snap shot deflected by Harris, but it when Clegg raced up the wing and sent in a Potts' like ball that Celtic got their revenge. Mayers rose higher than Carragher and nodded the ball into the back of the net.

Celtic then proceeded to attack with gusto, and peppered Runcorn's box with crosses. With 45 seconds of stoppage time played, Celtic in the middle of an attack with five players and the ball in the box, the referee inexplicably blew for full time; a wait of five seconds could have seen Celtic snatch all three points, but it was not to be.

This was a hot and cold Celtic performance. At times they showed a lot of passion, but for long periods there was a listlessness about the performance. Wheatcroft again showed a lack of confidence when he replaced Naraghi, and Kielty appears to have joined in, with a lot of negative play, but it was pervasive of the entire team. Perhaps a good cup run can rejuvenate them, because something needs to. The team obviously has ability because when they chose to turn it on, they can rip the opposition to pieces.

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