At this point in the season, teams are blighted by injuries, and suspensions. Whitby were in a similar situation to Celtic at the start of the game, with a player out suspended, two injured and two novices. However, Celtic trumped that with two suspensions (to Wharton and Parr), five injuries (German – glandular fever, Pearce and Eastwood – knee, Dootson and Bowman – hernia, and Heald – unknown – this is six, but Bowman played anyway) and three novices (Bowker, Ralph and Clough). Bowker had been recalled from Radcliffe and slotted straight into a back four that looked like they'd never played together – presumably because they hadn't. On the bench, the only fit player was Paul Clough, a debutant centreback from the junior team who became the first player to progress from Celtic juniors to Celtic seniors. Celtic had in goal Andy Ralph on loan from Northwich Victoria, and as is common in the first game, behind a shaky defence, he stayed rooted to his line throughout the match.
Anybody who expected the slick style of play that was on show at Worksop were disappointed as both teams struggled to play anything like consistent football.
That said, if Celtic could have capitalised on their early pressure the game would have turned out differently, but they have only themselves to blame for the fact that they didn't.
Denham won a corner almost from the off, Potts curled corner was cleared on the near post, but the nippy forward found a little space at the edge of the box as the Whitby defenders held off him long enough to turn and shoot, but it was wide.
Whitby's opening chance came from a corner conceded by Caldecott. Ralph punched the corner clear, and caught the header back in, looking quite comfortable in the box. Appleby was a danger man for the visitors, and he proved it with the ease he turned Bowker and snapped off a shot, it was wide, but it was a warning.
Monk should have had a brace in the first quarter of an hour, starting when Denham nodded Caldecott's floated free kick into the box down to Mayers. Mayers tried the overhead kick, it was a good one, but blocked by Campbell. The Whitby keeper couldn't hold the shot, and spilled it into the path of Monk, who snapped off a first time shot while the keeper was out of position, but cleared the bar from three yards out. Monk got a second chance sooner than he could have hoped. An excellent cross in from Denham was right into his path. Monk's first touch set him up, and the second brought a very good save from Campbell, even better as the visiting keeper managed to turn the loose ball between Clegg and Mayers so it could be cleared.
Celtic fans could have been forgiven for thinking that the game would have a different result, as Whitby's backs were up against their own goal line and Celtic's passing was sheer class. An intricate move that saw Whitby snapping at shadows ended with Mayers putting the ball into the path of Denham, the shot was good, but wide.
However, the tide took an unexpected turn for the worse. A Clegg supposed foul on McTiernan at the half way line was floated into the box, Ralph didn't come to claim, the defence didn't clear, and Appleby collected, turned and rifled a shot into the bottom corner. Celtic had spurned numerous chances; Whitby had taken their only one.
Clegg tackled Appleby and set Monk off on a run. The play was switched to Potts who twisted inside two defenders before laying the ball off to Smith. Smith had a sight on goal when it was brought to the referee's attention that Appleby was still lying in the grass. The play was stopped and the physio was brought on.
Inexplicably, the referee then showed Clegg a yellow card.
The referee had not been alerted by his linesman, he'd seen nothing wrong originally (it was hardly advantage, Celtic were attacking), so why the sudden change of mind?
What made it even worse was when Appleby then climbed to his feet and was perfectly fine and outpacing Keeling not five minutes later.
The card was one example of Celtic's bad luck this season, another example came when a clearance from Linighan struck Potts inside the six-yard box. It could have gone anywhere, but it went to the keeper. Denham, Celtic's answer to a formula one racing car engine, won a corner off Bossy. Potts tried to be cheeky, curling the corner towards the far post where there was no one on the line, but he couldn't curl it far enough, and Bowker couldn't keep it in. Denham then won a second chance for Potts by earning a corner off Dixon. This time it was put on Keeling's head, but his knock down was well read and cleared. Denham gave Potts a third chance by winning another corner off Dixon, but this time Campbell came through the crowd and punched clear.
Fed up with Denham winning all the corners, Mayers' low cross struck Linighan and went for a corner, giving Celtic their fourth corner in three minutes. Celtic, though, cannot score off corners.
Appleby, the man whose injury had been so severe it was worth a booking despite the officials not seeing it happen, collected the ball at the half way line, turned Keeling, ran past Bowker and left him in his wake struggling to catch up. Ralph remained on his line as Appleby bore down, and has to shoulder some of the blame when Appleby's curling dipping shot from just inside the area beat him to double Whitby's lead. Two chances, two goals. Celtic have been punished this way a lot this season.
Celtic continued playing in their dominating way, with Potts having a driving run that saw him upended by Gildea inches before getting into the box. Potts took the free kick himself, despite it being on Caldecott's side. It was over the bar.
From a nothing tackle given as a foul on the half way line, Williams tried a cheeky quick free kick. He must have been supremely confident in Ralph not watching, but watch he did, and caught easily.
Celtic had a penalty shout turned down when Mayers, Denham, Bowman, Clegg and Potts threaded the ball intricately to the edge of the box before Mayers placed it into the path of Bowman. The injured midfielder through caution to the wind and risked his hernia with a thunderous shot, that could have bulged the net, had not Bossy's arm took the sting out of it and deflected it to the keeper. Intent is difficult to read in those situations, so the benefit of the doubt will be given.
McTiernan was lucky to get away with his foul on Monk near the half way line. He literally judo threw Monk to the floor, wrestling him, despite the ball having long gone. No cards, just a free kick.
Celtic's half time team talk should have been audible from the terraces. There was no evidence of that as they continued to play as though the scores were level. There were plenty of intricate passes, and possession keeping, with little end product. When the ball came to Denham at the edge of the box, he could have burst into the box, but saw Campbell off his line, and tried to lob him. It was a good attempt, but also cleared the bar.
Potts won a corner off Williams, which he put in himself, Campbell's palmed contact wasn't brilliant, but it was just enough to take it away from Keeling. Potts was at his trickiest best in the opening exchanges of the second half as Celtic probed for a way into the match. A driving run saw him trick four defenders before pulling the ball back for Denham. Denham's first touch set up a thunderous shot that took a great save from Campbell to deny the goal. As the keeper's block fell to Potts he slid it into the back of the net, only to be called offside. Potts didn't let it stop him. He performed another powerful run towards the box, eventually running into one too many white shirts. The ball fell to Caldecott who chanced his arm from distance, but his shot went narrowly wide.
If Celtic needed reminding that they were two goals behind it came when Whitby exploited a huge space at right back after Smith had pushed too far up field and couldn't get back. Ormerod ran into the space to go one-on-one with Ralph, but stuck his shot into the side netting.
Denham joined Clegg in the book, this time legitimately. When the keeper gathered Potts' ball, Denham swung late, catching Campbell's shin-pad. Rightful and proper yellow card. Celtic were still finding it difficult to test Campbell legally. A whipped in cross from Potts was meant for Monk, the keeper called and came, but if it weren't for the smart actions of Linighan, Monk would have got there first and opened his Celtic account. Campbell punched clear the corner.
Denham's persistence nearly paid off when he darted between two men and into the box. Campbell came to narrow the angle and Denham's cheeky instincts produced a stunning chip over the keeper that smacked into the crossbar instead of the back of the net.
Ralph proved that he is a good keeper; he just needs a short bedding in period. McTiernan raced one-on-one with him, from a narrow angle, Ralph not only made an excellent last ditch save with his feet, he got up, and reached the loose ball first before it could go for a corner or be reached by McTiernan.
Clegg, whose first yellow card had been a travesty, suffered a second in the same match. A perfectly timed challenge on Veart resulted in him coming away with the ball without making any contact with the Whitby man. The referee certainly saw nothing wrong with it, but his assistant had other ideas. A brief discussion, and Clegg was dismissed. Even Veart looked surprised at the linesman's decision.
Monk continued to get into good positions, and picked up on Denham's powerful run early on, following in the Celtic attacker. As Denham ran into a wall of white, he laid the ball off to Monk. With Mayers and Potts at the far side of the goal, with it empty before them, a cross could have been the better option, but Monk was entitled to shoot, so he did – wide.
Bossy used both hands to shove Potts over some twenty-five yards out from goal. It was on Caldecott's side and this time he didn't run over the ball, but curl a beauty around the wall, and straight into the arms of Campbell. A one two between Mayers and Denham provided Mayers with an excellent opportunity, but he couldn't keep his shot down, and so didn't trouble Campbell.
Potts had to beat both Veart and Williams, got past Williams but Veart conceded the corner. As we all (and presumably Whitby) know, Celtic cannot score from corners. Denham brought down Potts' corner, he had nowhere to go, so he lobbed it back across to Potts. Potts wasted no time in lobbing it back into the box where Monk came steaming in and finally, at the fourth time of asking, opened his Celtic account with a thumping header.
With 10 minutes remaining there was a thought that perhaps Celtic could snatch a draw.
This seemed even more likely when Denham raced into the box, twisted away from the keeper and was bodily shoved over by Campbell: cast iron penalty. Campbell hadn't got the ball, and pushed Denham over. Did we get it? No.
Ian Monk was a hairs breadth away from equalising. Potts again drove into the box, jinking between two defenders before whistling a cross through the six-yard box. Monk launched himself at the ball, but only felt it's passing past his parting, and Linighan put it out for a corner that was easily dealt with. Denham was then pulled back off the ball by Linighan just inside the box and stuck the ball out for another Celtic corner, which was also easily dealt with.
Another handball, this one deliberate by Bossy in the box denied Denham an equaliser. The intricate build up had seen Celtic involve most of the team, before winding up with Denham who turned and shot, only for Bossy to raise his arm and deflect the ball towards Campbell. Obviously nothing given.
In the dying moments of the game, any chance that Celtic had faded. A hopeful punt up field was chased by the supposedly flu ridden Nicholson. Ralph remained rooted to his line when he would have been favourite to reach the sliced clearance from Bowker. Nicholson had the simplest of jobs rifling it past Ralph.
Potts' running and twisting eventually caught up with him and he had to be carried from the field with cramp. Taking his place for the final three minutes was Paul Clough. A little bit of history in a miserable game as Clough became the first player to come from the Celtic junior team to play for the senior team.
There was still time for Denham to be fouled just outside the box by Gildea. Bowman took the free kick, and Campbell had to make the save. That save was nothing compared to the one at the other end. Bowker fouling Appleby (although the way that Appleby would go down at the slightest hint of heavy breathing leads me to think that he's never fouled) conceded a free kick twenty-five yards out. Appleby took the free kick himself and Ralph produced a top draw save to tip the ball over the bar. The corner was wasted, and Celtic were finally put out of their misery.
This was a gift of a game for Whitby. They looked to have absorbed their injuries and newcomers effortlessly, whilst Celtic struggled to look consistent. Though the vast majority of the chances fell to Celtic, there was precious little chance of any of them going in. One of the biggest problems this season is a lack of accuracy in the shooting department. Celtic rarely make opposing keepers work.
Talking of keepers, Ralph showed one or two instances of high class keeping, but he needs to leave his line occasionally and start to command the box and above all organise the defence who made error after error throughout the game. Some of the blame for all three goals must fall on Ralph's shoulders, but the rest of the team cannot point fingers.