Celtic were the architects of their own defeat against table-topping Alfreton. They applied most of the pressure to the visitors, and the score-line belied the play.
Alfreton started the brighter, attacking from the off, with danger man Duffield latching onto a half clearance, but knocking the ball back in and over the bar. Another of Alfreton’s ex-league players, Ward, picked up a loose ball in midfield to lob the ball into the box. The first of many Alfreton handballs was committed by Sale, ending the attack. Alfreton continued to press the home side, and Robinson cut inside Whealing before lobbing the ball to the back post – Dootson read it well, smothering the ball at Sale’s feet.
Sale was upended by German, with the former making a meal of the challenge and winning a free kick just inside the Celtic third. German intercepted the poor free kick, putting it out for a corner, which was headed over the bar by Sale, and Alfreton’s early pressure was ended.
Play moved quickly down the other end of the pitch, and Wharton was clumsily challenged by Brown thirty yards out. Whealing took the free kick quickly, knocking the ball sideways to Wharton who struck a sweet shot, but Butler in the visitor nets was well positioned and made a simple catch. Celtic continued to increase their dominance, and when the defence parted before Smith, he wasted no time in striking a powerful, rising shot that narrowly went over the bar.
Eastwood and Calcutt interchanged to put Eastwood into the box, he struck a low shot for the bottom corner, but on route, Blount’s foot deflected the ball, sending it looping over the bar – somehow the referee and the linesman missed the obvious deflection, and gave a goal kick. Butler’s goal kick was brought down by Bettney with a deft touch that allowed him to get beyond Wharton and slip a cross into the box – German was inches too short to reach the cross, and Duffield stretched a leg to divert the ball from close range past Dootson to give the visitors a goal against the run of play.
Celtic didn’t let the goal faze them, and continued to apply pressure to the visitor’s box. Eastwood easily beat his marker before sliding the ball through the defence for Sykes to run onto, which he did. Ward blocked his shot and athletically twisted to poke the loose ball narrowly past the upright for a corner. Whealing’s back post corner was superb. Monk, possibly the shortest player in the box, got his head on it, producing a reaction save from Butler pushing the ball onto the bar. The ball came back down to Monk, and he headed again, this time striking the bar on his own, the ball came back down to him, and as he tried to shield it from the attentions of three defenders and the keeper, it was cleared.
Calcutt raced past Chapman who dragged him back conceding a free kick. Calcutt took the free kick himself, aiming for Sykes, but Robinson beat him to it, heading over his own bar. Eastwood trapped the ball at the edge of the six-yard box only to be as mystified as the rest of the people in Bower Fold when the referee blew for a high foot (it was perhaps six inches off the ground and there was nobody near to him!).
Celtic soon brought the ball back again, and once more Calcutt skinned Chapman and put a looping cross into the box that Monk brought down well and shot instantly, seeing it deflected out for a corner by Blount. Calcutt’s corner was cleared by Duffield.
Once more, the referee and linesman failed to notice an Alfreton touch when Calcutt’s far post cross was pushed out for a corner by the diving Butler. Once again Celtic lost out because of it. The long field punt was brought down by Sale; German was close behind him and got the faintest of touches on the big strong Sale who collapsed like a demolished building. Ward’s free kick curled around the wall, and Dootson couldn’t reach it, doubling Alfreton’s lead, again against the run of play. Two sucker punches.
Celtic kept their heads up and continued to play in the way that was pressuring the visitors. Eastwood found enough of a space between bodies to put the ball square to Wharton who struck a low shot through a crowd, but missed the target. Calcutt then cut inside Chapman who made a good last ditch tackle putting the ball out for corner and Butler came through a crowd to get a good punch on the ball and Brown hoofed it clear to Sale who wrestled Keeling for the ball, and conceded a free kick. Dootson’s long free kick came into the box, and was headed wide by Brown.
Eastwood then did a bit of unintentional defending for Alfreton when the corner came out to Whealing and the fullback struck a powerful drive through the crowd, striking his team mate on route to goal. Eastwood then had to make amends, and he did so in fine style. He brought down a Sykes ball superbly well, to create a bit of space, saw Monk in acres of space and fed the ball to him. Monk wasted no time in driving the ball through the crowded box; Brown’s backside deflected the ball wrong footing Butler and halving the deficit.
Robinson used Sykes as a springboard just outside the box to reach a Whealing cross. Calcutt took the free kick and Celtic were robbed of a penalty by very poor refereeing, as Robinson used his hand to push the ball out ahead of Monk. Celtic got neither a penalty nor a corner when the decision was given as goal kick, despite the protestations of the Celtic team.
Hayward was bundled over just outside the box by Fisher, but the ball continued to Monk and the referee gave advantage, which Monk used to take a shot, when perhaps a cross to the unmarked Eastwood, Sykes or Calcutt was the better option, especially as he missed the target.
Injury time is normally added on for injuries to players, but the three minutes in this half came when Sykes was fouled by Sale just inside the Celtic half and Sales hurried ball looped across the pitch and struck the linesman in – ahem – a delicate area. The linesman continued for the rest of the half, but was substituted at the start of the second by the fourth official.
Eastwood was clumsily bundled over by Blount just outside the box, the free kick was half cleared as far as Monk who struck a low shot through a crowd of players – Butler saw it late and made a good stop down to his right with the last act of the half.
At the start of the second half, Alfreton again had a spell of pressure, with Duffield latching onto a half cleared ball, but firing into the side netting, but Celtic got into stride quicker than in the first half, and Robinson actually got penalised for a handball, forty-yards from goal, though. Robinson got to the free kick ahead of Sykes to redeem himself at the expense of a corner, which was poor and easily cleared. Chapman was the next to be penalised for handball as Alfreton continued to treat the game as though it was rugby. The free kick was wasted.
Alfreton did get the ball out of their own half briefly as Keeling couldn’t control Bettney’s cross, putting it out for a corner. Dootson palmed the corner away to safety.
Celtic’s pressure continued to mount, and Bettney courted a booking when he hauled Hayward out of the air just outside the box. Whealing’s free kick was floated to the penalty spot. Calcutt’s jump for the ball was declared illegal, and Celtic had to build again; which they did through Hayward’s industry. He found Eastwood with a pinpoint pass into the box after shaking off three defenders, and Eastwood swivelled on the edge of the six yard box and somehow fired over the bar with the goal gaping.
Calcutt sprinted past Chapman and whipped in a cross to the far post where Monk was steaming in, Monk prodded the ball towards goal and Butler made a good save bundling the ball around the post, and the corner was cleared, though German controlled and fed the ball along the floor to Wharton who found Eastwood with an instant cross. Eastwood’s header was almost to the far top corner, narrowly going over the bar – Butler would not have reached it.
Again Calcutt found the space for a cross, which Brown half cleared as far as Sykes, who should have taken a touch before firing it back towards goal as he sliced his shot wide. Whealing, too, was having the better of the battle of the fullbacks, outpacing Robinson to put a ball to the penalty spot, Hayward stretched between two players to reach the ball, and was then mystified at how a player could be behind defenders and the ball, and still be offside.
Once more, Celtic didn’t get a corner for a deflection, when Sykes found Hayward just inside the box, and the striker turned and shot, with Chapman’s foot deflecting it around the post for a goal-kick. This time Celtic weren’t punished – though only just. From the punt, Wharton tangled with Bettney on the half way line, and the quickly taken free kick was given to Chapman forty yards from goal, he chanced his luck but his shot was straight at Dootson.
Calcutt tried to cross, but Nwadike blocked. It came back to Calcutt and he tried again, this time with Chapman blocking. From the throw, Wharton took a couple of touches to make a bit of space and fired a low shot to the keeper’s right – which Butler tipped around the post. The corner came out to Sykes at the edge of the box, but his shot was wide.
Either Calcutt was slowing, or Chapman was getting cannier, as he blocked Calcutt’s cross at the expense of a corner. That corner was cleared, but soon Monk won a corner of Nwadike. Robinson headed the near post corner out for a second corner, which was cleared by Sale.
Celtic regained possession, and once again attacked. Smith fed the ball to Eastwood at the edge of the box – Eastwood saw Sykes in a great position, put the ball into his path, and Sykes fired a low shot to Butler’s left, and despite the lack of pace, Butler couldn’t reach it and Celtic were level!
They were not level long. Alfreton hoofed the ball down field, German went for the volley clearance, missed his kick completely Bettney took advantage put the ball across the face of goal, found Duffield completely unmarked and the Alfreton striker got his second of the day.
Celtic continued to try and get something out of game that they deserved something out of – Calcutt winning a corner out of Chapman. The corner was cleared as far as Smith, but his lob back into the box was cleared. However, it was clear that the third goal had knocked the stuffing out of Celtic. German conceded a weak corner that Alfreton took short. It came eventually to substitute Knapper whose shot from distance was over the bar.
Hayward held the ball up waiting for his team mates, but was fouled by Blount thirty yards from goal. Keeling flicked the ball onto Sykes, but his reaction header was straight at Butler. Alfreton’s time wasting went into overdrive for the final few minutes, and the referee seemed quite content to allow it – though he did caution Sale for persistent fouling when his umpteenth foul on Keeling tipped the referee against him.
The free kick was floated into the box, and Fisher headed over his own bar. The corner was to Keeling, but Brown got there first and headed clear as far as Whealing – Whealing struck the volley sweetly, but Butler was well positioned and caught comfortably.
With seconds to go, Sykes attempted to emulate Alfreton by using a blatant handball to knock the ball past Chapman on the half way line and launch a final attack on Alfreton. All he got was a yellow card.
Celtic dominated this game, and lost to two sucker-punches and a defensive error. The first two goals came from goal kicks that should have been corners, and the third was just bad luck. This is only half the story though – Celtic created dozens of chances, most of them excellent, but their shooting was generally off-target, with both goals having a touch of luck about them. It was still a disappointing performance by the officials, though, missing several key moments that turned the game – this happens, and Celtic need to take from this game that they were by far the better team.