Another in a series of must win games for Celtic saw them take part in a right cracker of a match at Marine. The first half saw most of the action, from a Celtic point of view, whilst the second saw the game develop into something of a niggly match, with fouls being committed by both teams, a penalty given that wasn't a penalty, and a penalty shout waved away that most definitely was!
To say that Celtic started the brighter of the two teams does not give their start justice. Bonsall opened the game with a chip over the top of the defence that gave Denham a glimmer of an opening. Denham didn't need asking twice and lashed in a shot that sped wide of the post. However, Celtic found the target with their next, well-constructed move. Caldecott curled in a free kick to Hayward at the near post, as the defenders homed in on him, Hayward volleyed the cross on to Potts who was now completely unmarked on the penalty spot. Potts lashed at the waist-high ball with a well-executed volley that gave Crookes now chance whatsoever.
Celtic won a couple of corners in quick succession, but has as been the story of the season, they were unable to convert either, though the second was put back in by Wharton, and Bowker headed straight at Crookes.
Celtic weren't having it all their own way. The defensive frailties that have dogged Celtic this season were exposed again, and Ralph had to come to the rescue on numerous occasions, starting with taking the ball at McNally's feet after he had surged past Keeling and German. The introduction of German as a sweeper has tightened things up at the back, but a few more games will be needed in order to cement this formation as was shown when Young fired a low cross through the six yard box to McNally huffing into the back post, fortunately, Ralph is proving to be an excellent keeper and he made a good claim, as he did moments later when Black's cross into the box was caught before it ever reached McNally. And when the defence or the keeper couldn't keep out Marine, they kept themselves out, as was shown when Murphy floated a free kick from the half way line to the back post, where Taylor nodded it back to Young, whose glancing header was wide.
Hayward nearly got on the score sheet for the second time in two games when he tried to flick Parr's through ball past Proctor ? only Proctor's outstretched arm denied Celtic's latest acquisition a one-on-one with Crookes. Hussin latched onto the free kick putting it out for the safety of a corner, which was quite naturally, cleared. Potts then surged down the flank and whipped in a cross after stepping past Proctor, Randles was there to give Celtic yet another corner. Marine struggled to clear the corner, and it fell to Keeling, but his shot was blocked and it fell to Bowker, and his shot was blocked and cleared properly.
Denham's pace not only causes defenders problems, it would seem that linesmen too have a problem with it. Bonsall played a lovely ball through the defence, Denham twisted off his marker and raced after it, he reached the ball and the linesman raised a very late flag with Denham not far from the box, one-on-one with Crookes.
Marine almost got the better of the irregular surface when Thurston used the awkward bounce to get a bit of space by Keeling, his shot bounced away from Ralph's dive, and fortunately around the post.
After Wharton took a clattering in the centre circle by Hussin, the referee played good advantage allowing Denham to race into the box with the ball, he was dispossessed by a good tackle from Randles, though it came to Potts, who won a throw and the referee went back to Hussin and booked him. Hayward again almost made it onto the score sheet. A poor back pass from Murphy saw the Celtic striker swivel on the spot and latch onto the ball, striking it cleanly at the near post gap. Randles' leg deflected the ball, taking the sting out of the shot, and allowing Proctor to welly it clear off the line.
Murphy's ball in towards the end of the half saw Bowker head desperately over his own cross bar before Young could put his boot on the cross. Celtic struggled to clear the corner as Marine piled on the pressure, but suddenly, Celtic broke clear with Potts. There could be no doubt as to Denham's position as he started from well within his own half and raced past the last defender onto Potts' through ball. Denham's first touch brought the ball under control and allowed him to take his time and pick his spot past Crookes, which he did with great delight screaming the ball into the top corner.
It was the last action before half time, and the two teams came out, Celtic obviously prepared for Marine to come at them hammer and tongs. That said, Caldecott almost put Marine out of the picture in the first minute of the half when his cross turned into an exquisite shot that Crookes acrobatically tipped over his crossbar. It being a corner, it was cleared.
Marine then did come at Celtic. Keeling getting in a last ditch tackle to deny Young an easy route at the expense of a corner. Ralph came through the crowd to punch clear, well clear.
The game got a little bitty as fouls came in from both sides. Heald (on for the injured Potts) was lucky to escape without a yellow card when his high foot dispossessed Randles. However, he did then go on to win a corner off Proctor that Young cleared. It was Clegg (on for the injured Wharton) who was next to avoid going in the book by the narrowest of margins when he sliced through Black on the half way line. His next touch, however was to put a bobbling ball into the path of Denham, Denham's shot took a deflection off Connolly and produced a fine save from Crookes to tip the ball around the post. The corner was cleared as afar as German some distance from goal, and his shot was wellied well wide.
Caldecott fouled Young just inside the Celtic defensive third. Hussin backed into Keeling in the box off the free kick tried to twist off Keeling and was amazed when the referee blew is whistle, indeed, he went to protest to the referee that he had not backed into Keeling, but soon changed his tune when the referee pointed to the penalty spot. Amazingly, the referee had decreed that Keeling had fouled Hussin. Newly on substitute (and newly returned from loan) Townsend stepped up to take the penalty. It was beautifully struck, but Ralph (a hero for Vauxhall saving a QPR penalty) became a hero for Celtic punching the penalty clear.
Almost immediately, Hayward went close at the other end when Heald's low struck drive through the six-yard box was an inch beyond his toes, but that was a bit of relief amid mounting Marine pressure and Black put a ball similar to Heald's across Celtic's six yard box, and Young's toe was inches away.
Celtic had a dubious penalty decision turned down when Denham raced into the box past Randles and blazed over the bar. Randles tuck Denham out with a late challenge in the box, but it was debateable as to whether or not the screamer of a shot had gone out before the tackle or after. Denham's trickery won Hayward a fourth chance at getting on the score sheet, as Denham raced around the back of Proctor before sliding the ball to Hayward. Hayward had his back to goal, but turned on a sixpence, though the resulting shot lacked power and Crookes caught.
Marine were getting increasingly desperate and playing the game at a frenetic pace, Taylor got himself into a good position and struck a low powerful drive that Ralph comically saved at the near post, stopping it well, but then allowing it to dribble towards the goal line before picking it up. Ralph was called on again when Taylor's superb whipped cross was met by substitute Ellison. It was only a flying point blank save from Ralph that kept the ball out, and Ralph somehow took the sting out of the header with one save, then knocked the ball away with a second save whilst still in the air! It was simply a stunning save. The loose ball fell to Young, but his shot was over the bar.
Proctor fouled Denham just outside the box, and then cut out the low cross for a corner. Celtic then got a very strong penalty shout turned down. Hussin jumped and planted his knee squarely in the back of Keeling as the corner was coming in, leaving the Celtic defender lying in some agony on the floor.
The Marine desperation almost ended in ruin. Crookes went for a ball that had gone for a throw and tossed it to Proctor. Proctor's throw was booted up field and landed at Caldecott's feet, just inside the Marine half. The cheeky little imp realised that Crookes was still getting back into his box and launched a long-range effort that was on target and had Crookes running to reach.
The Celtic defence held up against this Marine side, but once again had to rely on the superb goal-keeping skills of Ralph whose contribution was out of this world. The sweeper system seems to suit this Celtic team though, and a few more games will cement it, and firm up the back.