Match Report -
Not good enough
By Debbie Taylor

A draw or a win would have probably been enough, but a lacklustre Celtic could manage neither, and the slight goal advantage that Celtic had over Runcorn was wiped out by blunders in the back line. To cap off a miserable afternoon, Caldecott was stretchered from the field.

Celtic could have been forgiven for feeling confident going into the game, but the euphoria of Saturday dissipated quickly.

Celtic started by getting the ball to Hayward, but Runcorn had done their homework, and Hayward was stifled virtually out by the game. In the opening exchanged, he was fouled, but Celtic took the free kick quickly, and wasted it.

Runcorn definitely knew what they had to do, and when Bonsall failed to clear a throw, it became obvious which team was up for the game, with McGinn volleying wide, fortunately. McGinn was then busy up at the other end of the pitch, when Potts and Eastwood interchanged, only to see McGinn slide in and put the ball out for a corner. The corner was put out to German, who put a good ball in that McMillan punched clear, injuring his own player in the process. McGinn again got involved, this time fouling Potts. The Celtic man wasted no time in feeding the free kick to Keeling, whose ball into the box was a tricky one for Runcorn to deal with, but deal with it they did.

Keeling, playing in a by now unaccustomed midfield role, kept a certain dead ball in and fed German down the line, German's all in meant for Eastwood was cut out by Ellis. Runcorn were defending very well.

The same could not be said of Celtic. The back line backed off McGinn who tried his luck from 20 yards. It was straight at Horridge but he couldn't hold the stinging shot, and Rendell was on hand to knock in the loose ball and put the home side in front.

There was no worry just yet, Celtic had scored in their last 14 consecutive games, and it looked like there were goals to be had. Potts did a bit of wing-work to whip a cross in meant for Hayward but cut out by Ness for a corner. The corner was wasted, delivered straight into McMillan's hands. German then whipped in a cross from the other flank, again aiming for Eastwood, this time McMillan palmed it away from Eastwood. Potts didn't give up, and put a good cross in for Eastwood that allowed him to roll off his marker and try and lob the keeper, but it was awful and well wide. Eastwood then tried again, this time off a ball from Caldecott into his feet that allowed him to run to the edge of the box and shoot over the bar. Eastwood turned provider, dropping a ball into Keeling's path, but the newly reclaimed midfield spot looked less certain when he shot wide.

Runcorn didn't really pose a threat during this attacking spell, but when Eastwood was adjudged to have fouled Spearitt forty yards from goal, the defensive frailties returned, with Celtic scrambling the ball clear. Potts then fouled McGinn, the free kick was floated into the box, and Pearce cut the ball out for a corner. Bowker should have taken more note of this method of dealing with a floated cross, because when Runcorn regained possession after Celtic cleared the corner, his flicked header back to Horridge was instead a gift to Lightfoot who nodded the ball into the back of Celtic's net completely unmarked from about a foot away.

Celtic looked like a team completing four games in 8 days, without much in the way of passion, despite what should have been considered a cup final. German was profligate when Potts pushed the ball back to him after being unceremoniously pulled backwards by Ness, with his shot curling wide and high.

Parr's heading came to the fore in the match, as a positive note. A free kick floated from the halfway line was thumped towards the top corner, but it was from too great a distance, and McMillan made a comfortable save. Hayward then won a corner off McGinn, but again the corner was delivered for McMillan. Celtic came close when Potts was fouled just outside the box, he took the free kick himself, but Ness was there to clear virtually off the line, and the clearance fell to Caldecott, but his lob back into the danger area was food and drink to McMillan.

When Runcorn went forward, the defence looked jittery. Lightfoot's cross through the six yard box was unmet by anybody, but Rendell got across and put another cross in from the other side that Horridge caught at the second attempt. Lightfoot was then allowed a couple of yards of space to get onto Garrity's cross, fortunately, he headed wide.

Potts again came close when he struck a good shot from outside the box that was deflected by Ness for a corner. Again, the corner wasn't utilised and cleared. Another corner came hot on its heals when Hayward broke the offside trap, but McGinn got back and slid in to put the ball out. This was a much better corner and Parr got a great contact on it, but put the thumping header straight into McMillan's midriff.

Celtic's curse resurfaced just before half time, when Caldecott went to cover a cross from the left wing. Horridge claimed the cross but when Caldecott turned, he collapsed on the floor and had to be stretchered off. Clegg was brought onto replace him forcing a re-organisation of the already worried looking back four. Keeling went to right back, and German to left.

Celtic looked to grab a goal in the final action of the half. Hayward was fouled just outside the box by Ness, and the free kick was wonderfully constructed. Potts slid it wide to Clegg who lobbed the ball to Pearce at the back post, but the Celtic centreback's shot was woeful and wide.

Celtic needed an early goal. Potts and Keeling interchanged, before Potts fired a shot just over the bar. Potts then won a corner out of nothing off McGinn, which he delivered perfectly. Parr raced into the box and threw himself at the ball, but his diving header was wide. Celtic wasted another glorious opportunity moments later when Hayward found Eastwood with his back to goal and pressured by a defender, Eastwood saw the better positioned Clegg and put the ball on his feet. Clegg's shot was over the bar.

Had Lightfoot been twenty years younger, Runcorn could have grabbed the third goal sooner. Breaking from the corner, Garrity fed the ball to Lightfoot who went one-on-one with Horridge. The Celtic stand-in keeper raced out well to dispossess him, but missed the tackle, and Lightfoot would have had an open goal had Keeling not come across to cover it, as he dallied, he gave Bowker the chance to come back and put a challenge in, so he fed the ball out to Rendell who's first time shot at the empty net was so wide it almost went for a throw at the half way line.

Still Celtic were in with a chance, and Potts won a corner off Courtney. Pearce met the ball with a good header, but McMillan scrambled it around the post. This corner was delivered straight to McMillan. Parr was then dreadfully unlucky. Hayward's initial shot was blocked, and Parr struck a good shot that Ness blocked at the edge of the box with his hand, but no foul was given, and Runcorn could break.

Lightfoot's cross into the box was just out of reach of Pearce, and it fell to Courtney, a glorious opportunity for the ex-Celt, but his touch was woeful and Horridge scooped up the loose ball.

Courtney slipped in a patch of mud near the half way line, and earned a foul off the referee. Fortunately, Celtic could scramble the free kick clear.

A change was needed, and Denham and Monk inexplicably replaced Eastwood and Bonsall. Monk's first touch was almost what Celtic ordered, as it was when Hayward put it into his path, his screamer from twenty yards was tipped over the bar by McMillan, in what was in effect, his first testing save. The corner came as far as Bowker, his shot struck Ness and went out for what should have been a second corner, but was a goal kick. Courtney clumsily bundled over Keeling thirty yards from goal. The free kick was fed to Monk, who put a good cross for Parr, but his thumping header was wide. Potts then put a cross in that Parr nodded into the path of Clegg, but the substitute's shot was blocked on-route to goal. Denham's first chance fell again from work from Potts. Potts dropped the ball off to Keeling who fired in a quick cross that Denham headed over.

Platt replaced Courtney, and the substitute's first touch was to play in Rendell who again wasted a good chance with a poor shot. Denham, forcing Ness into conceding a corner, raced onto a German clearance. The corner was cut out for a second corner, which was cleared. Denham soon brought the ball back, and McGinn took him out in full flight. Rolling to his feet, Denham confronted McGinn, who rolled theatrically over, and Denham got a yellow card for his actions.

Potts kept plugging away testing the defence with crosses, but the defence was on top of them, with Ellis cutting one meant for Hayward out for a corner. Given Celtic's examples of corner taking, this was probably the safest place. Celtic managed to make this corner even worse than any that had gone before. Runcorn broke off the corner with Rendell taking the ball up field. Celtic's defence were outnumbered, but Rendell went for goal anyway. It was a great save from Horridge, tipping the ball onto the bar, but Garrity was one of the spare men and he had time and space to simply knock the rebound into the back of the net and put the game well out of Celtic's reach.

Spearitt fouled Clegg on the halfway line. Monk took the free kick inside and tried his luck from just outside the box. It looked momentarily like it had sneaked in, but no such luck; it had hit the side netting.

Another corner went to Celtic, with Potts knocking it out off McGinn. The corner went to German, and his cross went to Bowker, whose header went over the bar. Then Denham won a corner off McGinn, that was cleared, and put straight back to Potts. He fired a low cross through the six-yard box, but Hayward's long legs weren't long enough to divert it into the net and grab a consolation goal (and lesson the goal difference deficit).

The final act was a corner from Runcorn, which they held in the corner, and were happy to do so.

The excuse was that Celtic had played four games in eight days, but it is no excuse. A point could have secured Conference North next season, and instead we now need to look to Hucknall away and Barrow at home and hope that neither have anything to play for so we can get something out of the games. With Ashton, Runcorn and Altrincham all vying with ourselves for the last three spots, something's got to give. Runcorn now need to win two of their last three, Altrincham both of their last three, while Ashton need to win their last game, and should this happen, and Celtic don't get at least two points, then Celtic will be the team in the play-offs. Celtic had enough chances, but couldn't take any of them.