Altrincham have yet to beat Celtic at Bower Fold for over 10 years, and this trend continued. Altrincham got plenty of shots, but were off-target for the most part, whereas Coburn in Altrincham's goal was called into action to make four excellent saves.
The first of those saves was in the first minute. Eastwood fed a defence splitting pass fro Hayward to run onto, and Hayward latched onto it, one-on-one with Coburn before 20 seconds had been reached on the clock, it looked like a certain goal, but Coburn stood up well, and Hayward tried to curl it past the Robin's keeper, forcing a very good save from him. The ball fell to Eastwood but before he could react Talbot was there to hoof the ball away.
Parr came close next, when a free kick was pumped into the box from Whealing, and he went up with Band, who pressured him enough to put the ball wide.
A free kick the other way allowed Altrincham a chance. The ball sailed into the box, and Little collected it on the far side, lobbing it back into the crowded box, where Hardy headed wide. Little and Hardy? That sounds familiar… Altrincham continued to press and Little won a corner when Smith stopped his run with a well timed tackle, but Dootson palmed it seemingly out of danger, only for Hussin to put it back in, and an unmarked Talbot headed well wide.
Dootson still had nothing to do when Hardy could find the target. Little pulled the ball back from the touchline, Hardy was waiting but his shot didn't even get past German. Dootson finally had something to do when Whealing obstructed Potts, who floated in the free kick himself. Dootson blocked and Keeling tidied up.
When Celtic broke, they came at Altrincham fast and there was purpose in it, too. Eastwood nutmegged Band, ran round him and was pulled back, just outside the box. The initial free kick was cleared, but came back to Smith who whipped in a wicked free kick that Band and Eastwood both went for, and Eastwood headed narrowly past the post. Whealing put in a ball of similar quality for Wharton and Eastwood coming into the box, and only alert defending from Talbot denied one or the other a goal.
Wharton had the best chance of the half as the half was running out. A perfect ball from Smith allowed Wharton to break the offside trap and go one-on-one with Coburn but the ball skidded through Wharton's legs as he missed the swing. This almost unsettled Coburn who'd dropped for the connect and had to adjust to catch the goal-bound cross from Smith. He did adjust and smothered as Wharton tried to reorganise his feet.
When I saw Coburn's save from Wharton's speculative effort from just outside the box, I felt it was theatrical. Sykes had pulled the ball back and Wharton had drilled it towards the bottom corner, and Coburn had fallen clumsily to smother – but I would later discover that this bit of the goal is Coburn's weakness. It was a weakness protected by Talbot, who was also having a great game. Hayward's flick-on from Whealing's cross fell to the feet of Parr who stabbed it goal-ward, only for Talbot to throw himself in front of it; the ball rebounded back to Eastwood who's low powerful shot was again blocked by Talbot.
Altrincham's profligacy cost them as dear as Coburn's form cost Celtic. Little drew a defender and Dootson to the near post before lofting the ball over the top to Hardy running in, it was a simple header, Dootson was back peddling following the flight of the ball, and Hardy put the ball around the wrong side of the post.
Hayward ended the half in the style with which it was opened. Wharton's lovely flighted ball over the defence allowed Hayward to break the offside trap, and go one-on-one with Coburn, he blasted it over Coburn and was unlucky to see his shot just clear the bar as well.
There was still time for another excellent save from Coburn though. Eastwood threaded a ball through to Monk who took a couple of steps and wrong footed the visiting keeper, but even as Monk shot one way and Coburn dived the other, he stuck out a leg and pulled off the save.
In the second half, early on, Hayward got another one-on-one with Coburn as the Celtic team continued to break the Altrincham defence with ridiculous ease. This time, Hayward went for a low power drive and once more found that Coburn was in stupendous form, pulling off another very good save. Hayward isn't the kind of player to just give up, and he tricked his way past Adams with a lovely turn, nutmeg and rolling move. Adams didn't appreciate the beauty of the move and just upended Hayward just outside the box, as Hayward was about to get another chance at beating Coburn. The free kick was cleared.
After all their profligacy, Altrincham went one-up through ex-Celtic winger Potts. The defence was in shambles as they blocked Little and Hardy's attempts – Little knocked the ball through the six yard box, and Dootson missed his attempted save, Hardy's weak shot was back healed off the line by German, only for it to fall to Potts who (with great relish) thumped the ball into the roof of the net, no doubt accompanied by his trademark grin.
Celtic came right back at Altrincham, looking for the goal that their play had deserved. Monk got a first opportunity, his shot blocked by Adams. The ball fell to Eastwood, first Talbot blocked his shot then Band blocked his second attempt at the expense of a corner. The corner was only half cleared as far as Smith who wasted no time in finding a way through the crowds, he blasted it low and hard into the one place that Coburn struggled to reach, the bottom right corner. Coburn must have seen it late, it came through a lot of bodies, but he was nowhere near making the save.
Altrincham must have thought that this was a game that they could win, for they came straight back at Celtic. Aspinall lofted a long ball into the box, but for the umpteenth time in the game, Hardy headed wide.
Wharton put one of his trademark power crosses through the six-yard box, too fast for the keeper to reach, and it would have been more dangerous had Monk been two inches taller as this was by how much he missed the header! Eastwood soon brought the ball back, and Little should have been more appreciative of Eastwood's tricky feet instead of just body-checking him. Eastwood had good vision and took the free kick while Coburn was organising the defence, spreading it into the path of Whealing whose shot was sweet and narrowly wide.
Whealing was found in acres of space by Smith, and allowed to run at the Altrincham goal. He put a superb cross right onto the foot of Hayward, but the side foot tap in was narrowly wide.
A bit of luck from the referee and linesman came after Eastwood had been substituted for Bonsall, and the recovering midfielder knocked the ball ahead of himself and Adams shepherded it out. Bonsall was walking away until he saw the referee pointing at the corner flag! Normally from cheap corners near the end of the game, a winning goal is produced, but not this time. The corner was half cleared as far as Wharton. Wharton lofted the ball back into the box for Sykes, it was a difficult header for Sykes and he tried to lift it over Coburn, but couldn't get enough power and Coburn made his easiest save of the game.
Coburn was not infallible though. A driven Sykes ball into the box was intercepted by Scott, sending the ball spinning high into the air. Coburn went with Parr to try and catch, failing miserably, but what Coburn did very well was to continue his fall and collapse at Parr's feet smothering the ball.
The final chance of the game fell to last-minute goal-specialist Little. Rose provided him with the perfect defence splitting pass, but before he entered the box he lashed at his shot spiralling it well wide of the mark and the referee decided he'd seen enough.
In the performances seen so far this season, this was the first 90-minute performance. But for some superb goalkeeping, Celtic would have been the talk of the league with a score-line well in excess of their dominance. Altrincham's defence was easily breached on numerous occasions, and if this form can be carried through to a team without Coburn in nets, then Celtic will start turning the draws into wins.