Celtic are seven points from mathematical safety, and given the draw at Vauxhall only days before, today seemed like the ideal opportunity to get three of those points. Vauxhall did not change their tactics from their own ground, and Celtic really should have been able to break them down with the knowledge of a few days previously, but disastrous defending, and a second dodgy penalty decision left Celtic with one point out of six from the visitors.
Vauxhall's tactics involve crowding out any player with the ball in the final third, if necessary, illegally. This was in evidence almost immediately, with Nesbitt bringing down Caldecott after the fullback had taken the ball past him with a dinking little move. Vauxhall were operating a sweeper system again, with Tomlinson cleaning up at the back, and it was he who headed the free kick powerfully away. Monk brought the ball down the right flank, where Celtic were having the most joy, and flicked the ball into Hayward, but under immediate and overwhelming pressure, Hayward was lucky to get a shot off, though it was over the bar. Lawton was there for Monk's next cross, heading out for a corner.
Keeling came through a crowd to thump a header into the back of the net. Dittmer caught the ball but the crowding in the box pushed him over the line. The referee decided to disallow the goal, as there was one Celtic player (Eastwood) amid the three Vauxhall players who had helped knock the keeper over the line.
McDermott cut out Monk's next cross, and the corner went out as far as Monk again, but Roberts blocked his shot. The rebound would have fallen to Bonsall, but Tomlinson shoved him bodily out of the path of the ball. German was the next to cross in; Parr met his cross, but under pressure from Tomlinson, the normally reliable captain headed wide.
Caldecott stopped Fearns apparently illegally, though the referee should have been watching how easily the top goal scorer went to ground for later in the game. The free kick floated harmlessly through the box. Moments later, though, Lawton got past Caldecott to spin in a cross. Fearns found himself completely unmarked at the edge of the six-yard box, and nodded home one of his simplest goals this season.
Vauxhall dropped into a tight defensive pattern with Fearns acting as sole outlet. He had the strength to hold off Keeling long enough to turn and have a shot, but put his snapped off effort wide.
With the Vauxhall team camping out just along the edge of the penalty area, Celtic were invited onto them. Eastwood jinked past Spellman, only to be brought down inches inside the box. Despite both players being inside the box, the referee gave it as a free kick inches the other side of the line. The free kick was wasted.
Nesbitt used his hand to control a ball and was spotted by the linesman. The referee had not given any handballs up to this point, including some quite blatant ones, but with the linesman flapping furiously, he relented. Eastwood brought down the free kick from Caldecott into the path of Wharton. Wharton smashed his shot narrowly wide of the upright. Such was the freedom granted Celtic by the flat back eight, that German was allowed to enter the box and try his luck, but Tomlinson was on hand again to block the effort.
Vauxhall tried to hit Celtic on the break, but with only Lawton, Cuminskey and Fearns committing forward, it was fairly simple for Celtic to keep them at bay, though they did win a corner, when Bowker cut out Cuminskey's cross. Vauxhall committed more people forward for the set piece, but it was Cuminskey's head that reached the corner, knocking it back to Fearns, whose header rebounded back off the bar.
But this was a strong defensive performance by the visitors, content to hold onto their one-nil lead. A free kick from the centre of the park was knocked down to Wharton. Tomlinson blocked his smashed shot and the rebound fell to Bonsall, who saw his shot blocked by Roberts.
Just before the half ended, Porter should have been shown the red card. First he fouled Bonsall, then, right in front of the referee kicked Bonsall in the shin pad, clearly and deliberately. The referee did not even talk to Porter.
Celtic finally broke the stubborn defence two minutes into the four minutes of stoppages. Bowker had been allowed to carry the ball forward. He lifted it over the defence, Hayward turned well off Roberts, breaking the deep offside trap and bringing down the ball. One-on0one with Dittmer it still required a great shot, and that was what he produced, disguising the shot past the keeper into the bottom corner.
In the final ten seconds of the four added minutes, Caldecott was adjudged to have fouled Cuminskey. David and Goliath springs to mind – perhaps Goliath was a footballer, which would explain how somebody half his height could bring him down so easily. Celtic couldn't clear the free kick, and Roberts was allowed tie and space to smash a shot past McCarthy and restore Vauxhall's one goal advantage.
Vauxhall continued in the same vein, secure in the knowledge that the referee had forgotten his cards. Wharton jinked past Robinson in full flight, so the cynical Motorman scythed Wharton down twenty-five yards from goal. Wharton took the free kick himself, and it was well taken, curled over the wall, and straight into the well positioned Dittmer's hands.
German and Bonsall threaded passes to get German into the box, German pulled the ball back for Monk, but the shot when it came was inches the wrong side of the post. Hayward then beat the offside trap again, he was immediately swamped, but pulled the ball back for Bonsall, it was his turn to send the shot just wide of the mark.
A series of three Vauxhall fouls on Wharton was finally stopped when Lawton yanked his shirt collar so hard that Wharton was pulled off his feet. Hayward took the free kick quickly, curling around the wall (they wouldn't have been made to go back ten yards anyway), and pas the stationary Dittmer to once again restore parity.
Immediately again, Vauxhall went looking to restore their lead. And this time they had help from the man in black. Parr cleared a ball into the box. Fearns waited a couple of seconds then fell to the floor clutching his face. The linesman, who had a great view of the incident made no move to call the referee's attention. Instead, a Vauxhall player called the attention of the referee to the event. The referee then gave a penalty – despite obviously not originally seeing anything wrong! A match turning event like this and he did not even consult his linesman – as he didn't blow when it happened, he cannot have seen anything, and as nothing had happened, this wasn't surprising.
Fearns, remarkably recovered from a supposed head injury, took the penalty, and scored. Fearns put the ball in the exact same place he'd put it hours before but McCarthy still dived to his left.
The referee's favourite position for Celtic, though, was with his arms behind his back, especially almost instantly when Eastwood ran into the box and Roberts charged in from the side and shoved him out of the penalty area with brute strength. Caldecott was fouled in the exact same way, buy the exact same player, moments later, this time outside the box, and the referee obliged with a free kick. Tomlinson got to the free kick ahead of Parr, heading narrowly over his own bar. The corner came all the way across to Bonsall; his shot was narrowly over the bar.
Monk then tried to slide a ball through for Eastwood, but last ditch defending meant that Robinson was able to divert the ball out for a corner, which Tomlinson headed out for a second corner. Nesbitt saw Wharton's intent, and cut in front of Hayward fro the near post flick on, clearing the danger. Nesbitt though then cut out the throw for a third corner. A blatant hand from Porter cut out Bowker's shot, but again, the hands were behind the back, and Celtic got nothing.
Eastwood tried to return the favour to Monk, but Dittmer reacted quickly, and raced out to meat the ball, and clumsily got it clear. Celtic were almost getting dividends, but like with the Lottery, you need more than almost.
On a break, Vauxhall extended their lead by sheer good luck. Bowker miscontrolled a long punted clearance, putting the ball right into the stride of Lawton. One-on-one with McCarthy, it was obvious what the outcome would be. Celtic really had an uphill struggle now, as Vauxhall's time wasting tactics grew even more ludicrous, and their defence turned into a nine-man effort with just Fearns up front.
McCarthy then managed to get injured whilst taking a goal kick.
Monk and German were having the run of the right flank, and putting cross after cross into the box, but the stout defence and quick reactions of Dittmer kept Celtic at bay. Potts was brought on to try and exploit this gaping hole. However, it was Bonsall's lofted ball over the defence that freed Eastwood. Eastwood found himself with a narrow angle and the keeper in the way, he tried to lob Dittmer, but he keeper was alert, back-pedalled and touched the lob over the bar for a harmless corner.
Potts made an impact with his first real attempt. He got the ball over the defence and Eastwood brought the ball down superbly into the path of German racing into the box. Dittmer had no time to react as the ball was smashed between his legs. Celtic had scored three goals, but were still losing!
Celtic continued to get nothing from the referee, a handball by Nesbitt was given to Vauxhall on the halfway line, and when Porter fouled Eastwood forty yards out, the referee gave a drop ball that Vauxhall won, and Lawton carried most of the way towards the Celtic goal, before reversing a pass into the path of Fearns. Fearns tried an audacious chip over McCarthy, but judged it all wrong and sent the ball over the stands as well.
With time running out (like at Harrogate), Celtic were looking for an elusive fourth goal to snatch a draw in a game that should have been sewn up. Eastwood received the ball on the penalty spot, but had five players surrounding him instantly. Potts did win a corner off McDermott with minutes to go, and put the corner to Wharton, but Tomlinson blocked the goal-bound effort. German put a great cross in for Eastwood, but with the last attack of the game, Eastwood put the ball over the bar.
The referee obviously thought he was being fair, but from perspective of the stands, it appeared he was trying his damndest not to be classed a homer and went too far the other way.
Vauxhall are not a classy team, they came to defend and snatch goals, and it was effective again, thanks in large part to sloppy defending. As with Harrogate, three of their four goals were thanks to basic errors at the back, and the fourth was not something that could be predicted.