Finally, Celtic got out of a game the result for the effort put in. The team played was close to that of last season, with Keeling taking the place of Bowker. In front of a season's record crowd of 1022 Celtic surged eight places up the table to 10th.
As in the previous fixture at Moss Lane, Altrincham had a lot of corners, but unlike previous opposition, Altrincham were unable to use these set pieces to grab goals off Celtic. Rose got on the end of Altrincham's first corner in the opening minute, shooting high and wide.
The game settled quickly into a midfield tussle before Lunt broke free, getting goal side of Keeling to snap off a shot – Dootson blocked with his legs, making his last save of the match before ten minutes had elapsed. The corner was cleared for Denham, who waited in his own half until the ball had gone over his head before setting off after it – somehow he was offside.
The pace that Denham has brought to the Celtic side has rejuvenated the whole team. Eastwood collected a ball in the middle of the park and was instantly surrounded by three Robins'. With a dexterous turn he made enough space to switch the play and free Denham on a long run down the wing (onside this time). Denham not only got to the ball, but also pulled it back for Wharton who had run down the centre of the park. Only a top class save at the foot of the near post from Coburn denied Wharton his second goal of the season.
Altrincham's reply showed that they too are having the world's worst luck on the field. Holt got a break when a ricochet presented him with a glorious chance just outside the box. His shot was almost perfect, it had power and swerve that caused it to fly and dip over Dootson before heading down. Almost perfect – it struck the crossbar and flew away.
It was to prove an expensive miss. Moments later Denham raced into the box. With his way blocked by a wall of red and white shirts, Denham squared it across an empty box to Eastwood. Wharton intercepted it, lost control of the ball squirting it into the space at the edge of the box. Mayers couldn't quite reach it before Talbot, but he poked it enough with his foot to put the ball back into the path of Denham. Even somebody as good as Coburn couldn't cope with the power and accuracy of Denham's first time shot – though he tried!
Craney illegally levered Wharton off the ball by the touchline, and Wharton's floated in free kick was met by a thumping header from Pearce. Coburn was well positioned, and made a routine catch – for him! In contrast, Altrincham won a free kick just inside the Celtic half. Hallows rose tallest, but didn't make Dootson work at all as he put his glancing header well wide.
Coburn was definitely the saving grace of the Altrincham line up. When Shuttleworth clipped Denham over in full flight, as he was level with the penalty box the resulting free kick again proved what a top class keeper he is. It was whipped into the dangerous area between keeper and defence. Coburn at full stretch palmed the ball away from Mayers, into the path of Eastwood. Eastwood rifled his shot, but Coburn recovered well making a fine save in the bottom corner.
Wharton, who had been shown a yellow card for a verbal altercation with Craney, was lucky to stay on the pitch when he brought down Shuttleworth. Parr needlessly converted the free kick into a corner, but was the one to clear it – so that's all right then!
Keeling, who is a contender for man of the season for me, is not a defender, and this fact was driven home when he tried to 'midfield' his way out of trouble. He dummied a ball from Wharton to allow it to run through for Dootson. Hallows wasn't fooled and ran onto it – fortunately for Celtic, he shot wide.
Altrincham started the second half in the manner that they had started the first: with a corner. Again Celtic looked like they'd been on the cocoa at half time as they struggled to clear, eventually conceding a second corner. Again Hallows was the tallest in the box, but again Hallows was guilty of nodding the ball wide.
Coburn too was starting the second half as he had played in the first. Mayers nutmegged Talbot to cue Wharton up. It was a superb strike from the Celtic midfielder and Coburn had to fly some distance to tip the ball around the post at full stretch with his fingernails. From the corner, Fitzgerald received the ball, shot and saw Coburn easily catch.
To prove it was no fluke, when Mayers again teed up Wharton with a nice rolled ball, Wharton aimed for top corner, and found a top class save denying him. The corner eventually came to German, but he ran the ball to wide and lost out to the by-line.
Shuttleworth lunged in on Denham as the nippy youngster raced past him. The ball was gone, Shuttleworth was the last defender, he'd been warned before and the tackle was dangerous – he could have had no complaints had the referee sent him off – however, to even up the possible sending off of Wharton in the first half, Shuttleworth got a yellow. The free kick was wasted. For silly yellow cards though, the one awarded to Denham has to take the biscuit. Altrincham were dawdling over their throw-ins so Denham picked up a ball and tossed it (under-arm and into the air) to the throw-in taker. Yellow card? You betcha!
Mayers tried to take the ball past Talbot only to see the Altrincham central defender clearly handle the ball inside the box, knocking it away from Mayers. The referee said it was the chest in which case Talbot should appear on Rapido, as he has a chest bigger than Jordan's! Mayers plays to the whistle and did succeed in winning a corner off Talbot – but Talbot cleared it.
Having got away with only a yellow card not five minutes earlier, when Denham raced past Shuttleworth, the Altrincham winger obviously felt immune enough to slice Denham's legs away. Again he was the only man between Denham and goal – but this time the referee indicated play on! Any indication that a foul had been committed would have necessitated Shuttleworth being dismissed. In the end though, the referee (who was okay, generally) did Celtic a favour, as ten men teams always pose them problems.
Some great running by Fitzgerald got him to the by line and allowed him to pull a low cross back for Mayers running in, Mayers miscued and allowed Coburn a soft catch. The reaction of the fans to Mayers' miss was completely out of context to the severity of the miss and it annoyed Mayers, who was probably already annoyed at himself at missing the shot. Mayers is a great reader of the game, and his vision has created many a goal, he's also scored 9 goals this season, making him second top scorer after Eastwood – he's allowed to miss a couple!
Denham's pace was causing the Altrincham back-line no ends of problems and when he was up-ended again by the last man – this time Craney, the referee awarded a free kick only, just outside the box. Again Craney was on a yellow, and again the referee decided against sending him off. It's amazing the power having a single yellow card hanging over you has. The free kick was straight off the training ground – and should have stayed there.
Mayers had a chance to atone for his earlier miss, but didn't expect Fitzgerald's ball to make it between the defender's legs, he did get a knee on the ball to divert it goalwards, but Coburn read the danger well and saved.
Altrincham and Celtic traded corners for a short period before Celtic broke again, with Denham putting a superb ball across the penalty box for Heald (on for an extremely annoyed Mayers). Heald pulled the trigger and produced another outstanding save from Coburn.
The corner was wasted yet again, but this time, it didn't matter. The referee blew for full time and Celtic had broken back into the winning habit at home.
There was a lot of positive out of this game. Celtic still need a strong centre half, Altrincham weren't punishing enough but still exposed Keeling several times – he's a much better central midfielder than central defender. Eastwood is rejuvenated by the return of Denham. Also, over a thousand came to watch Celtic climb back up the table. How many will be back for Celtic's next home game (in 30 days, believe it or not!), is hard to say. It depends on the results between now and then.
The negatives were the crowds barracking of Mayers. Why they have singled out Mayers is a mystery given what he puts into every game is commitment and vision.