Match Report -
Who was the Conference team?
By Debbie Taylor

Northwich Victoria share a ground with Witton Albion, and to be frank, Celtic could have been playing a team from a division below, instead of a division above, producing by far the classier football of the two teams. Celtic dominated from start to finish, and created almost all of the chances to be had.

The pattern for the game was set in the opening minutes. Mayers laid off Eastwood who fed the ball through to Foster. Foster swung the ball to the edge of the box where Smith was waiting. With his first touch for the club, Smith produced a wicked curling volley to mark his debut with a superb goal from an acute angle that left Woods with no chance.

Foster's ball over the top found Wharton unmarked at the edge of the box. He controlled the ball, turned and tried to lift the ball into the top corner, but just cleared the crossbar.

Celtic were cruising, and the game was barely ten minutes old. Foster was put through with a canny reverse pass from Mayers to go one-on-one with Woods. The Vics keeper came out on top with a fine save with his legs.

In his only save of the half, Dootson didn't have to move. Pearce conceded a corner deflecting Bennet's cross for a corner. This was cleared as far as Norris, but his well struck shot was right at Dootson.

Celtic won a couple of free kicks around the box, but in their haste didn't register a shot on target. Less haste more goals! From the second of the free kicks that went for a throw, Eastwood received the throw had the time to turn and shoot - again Woods was equal to it, getting down well to smother the ball.

Celtic were by far the more comfortable of the two sides, with plenty of constructive passing and movement that was leaving Northwich chasing the game. New signing Smith was all over the pitch, he started a move that involved Clegg, then Eastwood, then Foster before finally being returned to Smith who drove a low half volley towards the goal, but Woods was on hand to smother.

As the half eased its way out, the home side won a couple of corners as Celtic eased off a little. First off Dootson palming out a cross when he could have left it, then from Pearce heading out a cross that he could have left. Fortunately, both corners were poor. It was a warning to Celtic that they were only one goal to the good, and they stepped back up a gear. Smith lobbed the ball over the top to Eastwood who nodded the ball down to Mayers, his volley was an inch over the bar. Foster then raced onto a through ball despite the keeper being the favourite to reach it. Woods had to react quickly with Foster steaming towards him though, and his clearance went all of ten yards - straight to Smith. Smith wasted no time and shot towards goal. Woods was miles away as the ball curled ever so slightly away for a goal kick.

From the restart Wharton stole the ball off Black and raced unimpeded towards the Vics' goal, curling his shot just wide of the upright. Celtic were starting the half with intent! Wharton got another chance moments later when Mayers found him unmarked dead centre. He produced a stunning shot that Woods had to dive full stretch to tip around the post. Unfortunately, Heald's corner curled out before curling back in and striking the back of the crossbar.

Another corner moments later turned the game into a farce.

Heald swung the corner towards German at the edge of the box. As the keeper moved across he collided with Foster who collapsed. German struck a sweet shot that deflected off Bowker past Woods who was still struggling to untangle himself from Foster who was curled up on the goal line. Woods decided to take out his frustration on Foster and kicked him in the ribs, before punching him on the back of the neck. Pearce came rushing over and squared up to Woods, receiving a punch to the chin for his defence of a fallen comrade.

The referee had a long discussion with his linesmen before sending Woods off. I don't think that the discussion was over Woods, for he was blatant - the discussion was over Pearce. The decision was a sending off. Pearce did raise his hands to Woods, mainly in an attempt to get him away from the GBH he was dishing out to Foster, who had remained curled up on the line throughout the whole incident. The linesman had flagged Foster offside when he collapsed, but the referee decided that a player curled up in a ball was not interfering with play.

Northwich replaced Zico Black with Devlin, who took the role of Keeper, and must have been thankful that Celtic had lost the will to continue the competition. Northwich were thus able to win a couple of corners, but again, poor corner taking gained them nothing.

Celtic though, nearly increased their lead further. Devlin was obviously no keeper (he seemed unable to catch the ball and was constantly dribbling it out of the box) and was poorly positioned when Eastwood's low cross came into the near post, so Foster will be kicking himself that his diving header was an inch the wrong side of the post. Neither could Eastwood do any better at testing Devlin, when he received the ball back off a Mayers one-two he could only clear the bar.

As the game started to draw towards a thankful close, the home side realised that they were going to be knocked out of the second cup competition in less than a week, and upped their attempts. Butterworth made some space for himself, but his well struck shot rebounded off the upright. In the last minute of normal time, Woodyatt latched onto an overlapping pass before striking the ball towards the goal. Dootson got down well to try and smother the ball but it bounced clear. German and Bowker attempted to get it clear but Bennet slid in with both feet to push the ball and the two defenders over the line and earn Northwich a consolation goal.

Rather than risk the game going into extra time, Celtic played keep ball after the restart and the Vics were powerless.

This was a comprehensive victory for Celtic, marred only by the needless sending off from Pearce. Whilst he was going to the aid of his teammate he should have left it to the referee and prevented the game degenerating.

Saturday sees a return to league action, and the confidence and swagger that Celtic have been displaying lately needs to be translated into a win over Radcliffe Borough.

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