After the previous three games of disappointments, Celtic roared back to life with a performance on a par with that against Southport. The whole team played as a team, and at times Hucknall were surpassed. This was in no small part to the party mood at Hucknall after they'd been crowned champions, but take nothing away from Celtic, Hucknall wanted to win, and Celtic had to play well to ensure that this didn't happen. Fitzgerald returned for one game only to play in his old colours.
Celtic set out their stall almost from the off. Denham cut inside his marker and dropped the ball off to Bonsall. Bonsall's shot thudded into a defender before it could reach Pettinger in the Hucknall nets and came out to Parr, some thirty yards from goal. Parr had a rocket of shot that screamed through the box and struck the upright, skidded along the goal line and was cleared as far as Hayward, whose instant shot was wide of the mark.
Hucknall showed their own intent with their first attack, German having to be alert to block Mayman's cross at the expense of a corner. Miller was the recipient of the corner, heading over the bar. Bowker then fouled Bacon on the halfway line, but although the free kick reached Ricketts, the striker's header was too soft to worry Horridge.
Celtic's turn for a corner came soon after, with Wharton knocking it out off Gaunt. Ricketts was back in defence helping out, heading it clear as far as Denham, whose ball back into the mix was caught by Pettinger. A poor punt from Pettinger struck Parr and fell back to Pettinger before the Celtic captain could react. Pettinger again tried to clear it, and again struck Parr, but before Celtic could capitalise, Asher had hoofed the ball clear. Asher's next action was to haul Eastwood off his feet just outside the box.
Wharton's free kick zipped into the box, Captain Parr rose higher than the rest of the players, and for the second successive season, thumped a header into the back of Hucknall's net.
Hucknall came right back at Celtic, with German conceding a corner. Ricketts nodded towards goal, but Bowker intercepted and cleared. Bowker then conceded a corner of his own, blocking Mayman's cross. Mayman himself got on the end of the corner, but his header was woeful.
Celtic were on fire though, and Denham junked and twisted his way clear into the box before unleashing a powerful shot that Pettinger did very well to tip over the bar. The corner was pushed out to German who crossed in for Hayward, only for Mayman to be heading over the bar again, this time defensively for a second corner. Pettinger came through a crowd and punched the corner clear.
The Celtic defence were obviously protecting their keeper as much as possible, and when Todd cut inside German and had a shot, Keeling threw out a leg and diverted it for a corner. The corner was cleared, but moments later, Fitzgerald, tangling with Ricketts by the corner flag, put the ball out for a corner, which Bowker cleared. Hucknall kept coming, and Keeling conceded a foul on the halfway line tipping up Miller. The free kick from Miller was straight to Horridge. This was a moment of relief for Celtic as Hucknall was pressuring the Celtic goal mercilessly, and desperate defending was the order of the day, somehow, Celtic were keeping the League Champions out.
Slowly, Celtic regained the initiative. Eastwood's good work allowed him to one-two with Hayward to get to the by line and put in a cross that Pettinger did well to reach ahead of Parr. Celtic then punished the sleepy Hucknall defence. Wharton touched on a punt up field to Hayward. Hayward struck the ball sweetly on the turn and diverted the ball past a stationary Pettinger.
Celtic tried to capitalise on their strengthening form. Wharton's deep cross was an inch beyond Hayward, and then Wharton was fouled by Davis and Ricketts on the halfway line, but Celtic's quick free kick was mopped up, and Hucknall pressed again.
Davis' cross into the box was a dangerous one, zipping through the six-yard box, but nobody was able to get onto the end of it. Bowker was then adjudged to have fouled Ricketts on the edge of the penalty box. The penalty was well worked, sliding the ball sideways for Bacon to strike. Horridge got down well and parried the ball, but with on onrushing attack, he couldn't reclaim the ball ? fortunately, Bowker was on hand to just get the ball out of the box.
It wasn't enough though, and the Hucknall pressure eventually told. A lobbed ball was just over the head of Fitzgerald, and Bacon was suddenly free. He had clear sight of goal, struck a clean shot and left Horridge stationary as it blasted across the line shortly before the end of the half.
Hucknall started the second half in the manner they had ended the first. From the kick off, Bacon raced down the pitch, had a shot that Horridge spilled, and Keeling stuck out for a corner that was scrambled clear. Hucknall kept coming, and a cross into the box was half cleared as far as Mayman, but his shot was over the bar by a considerable margin. Parr's foul on Miller on the halfway line was floated into the box by Todd, but Bacon's header was narrowly wide from close range.
Celtic, too, were fired up for the second half, and Eastwood's fancy footwork made him half a yard of space at a narrow angle. Pettinger blocked his shot, but no Celtic player could get onto the loose ball, and Hucknall hoofed it clear. Eastwood again tried to find a route through from the left, but found Mayman in his way, taking the corner instead of the cross. The corner was cleared as far as Fitzgerald; his shot was wild and wide.
Bowker shut off Bacon's route to goal at the expense of a corner, that Celtic cleared comfortably. But the balance of play was definitely swinging in Celtic's favour. Eastwood cut inside and dropped the ball off to Wharton, he side stepped Hunter, and had a shot, producing a fine save from Pettinger. Part of Celtic's game plan for the second half was to slow the game down with some obvious attempts at time wasting. For one such act, Wharton found himself booked.
Time wasting aside, the majority of chances were falling Celtic's way. Eastwood brought down a Bonsall ball, and put it into the stride of Hayward, but the normally reliable striker put his shot narrowly wide.
This is not to say that Hucknall didn't have any chances, and Ricketts missed a glorious opportunity to level the scores when he nodded a long throw over Horridge's outstretched fingertips, but the header hit the bar, and Horridge turned and caught the rebound. Davis was given too much space thirty yards out, and tried his luck, but his shot was over the bar. They got even closer moments later when Bowker conceded a corner that was headed past Horridge by Ricketts, only for Wharton on the line to hoof the ball out.
The Eastwood Hayward combination resulted in another chance for Hayward. Eastwood controlled a fast pass from Wharton well, turned and put the ball into the path of Hayward, but his shot was scooped wide. German then managed to somehow win a corner off Todd. The corner was excellent, and Parr's contact was superb, but the ball zipped narrowly over the bar with Pettinger nowhere near it.
The game was ended with a typical Celtic move. This time Hayward was the provider and Eastwood the recipient. Holding the ball on the edge of the box, Hayward heard Eastwood's shot behind him, a diagonal reverse pass right into Eastwood's path required Eastwood to only hit it. Eastwood did just that; it took a deflection off Miller, and looped over Pettinger and into the back of the net. Having had no luck all season, Celtic secured a Conference North with a tiny bit of fortune.
Chances continued to fall to both teams, first Keeling conceded a corner, and then Gaunt conceded a corner, neither amounting to anything. Todd's cross into the box was punched clear by Horridge. And with time running out, Monk was brought on for Denham, and his first touch was a good cross into the box where Eastwood, Hayward and Parr were waiting, but Barrick cut the ball out for a corner. The corner was cleared, but the referee had seen enough and blew his whistle.
Celtic now go into the last game of the season against Barrow much relieved not to require the points. Barrow too, will not need the points, as they lost at home to Alfreton putting them four points away from second spot, with only the one game to play. Barrow, like ourselves, are certain of a Conference North spot. The only question marks remaining for the last remaining automatic spot are between Gainsborough, Altrincham, Ashton and Runcorn, one of whom will be in the play-offs rather than the automatic promotion spots.