Celtic took revenge for a sliding two-footed challenge on Dootson that left him with twin gashes in his leg by gabbing a late winner in this derby match.
Celtic started slowly, but faster than Ashton. A slow start was inevitable after the many missed matches since Kettering. Ben Smith had been moved to his favoured right wing position, and on the form he was on, Calcutt will be hard pressed to break back into the team. He opened his performance with a surging run towards the box dummying Johnson to work some space before firing a low drive that Carty had to stretch to block. Smith then used the other aspect of his game with a swinging cross from the wing to the back post where Hayward and Johnson were rushing to meet it. The visiting defender got there a fraction of an inch ahead of Hayward conceding a corner, which White cleared.
Ashton took advantage of the lack of games to push down field, with Walsh winning a corner out of Wharton. Wharton made amends by clearing. Ashton were soon back though, with Mitten lobbing a ball to the back post that Whealing reacted well to, putting it out for a corner that Parr headed clear.
Play worked its way down the other end of the pitch, where Wharton evened the corner count by knocking the ball off White. The corner from Whealing was superb, matched only by the thumping header from Parr, Connor in the Ashton nets could only watch as the ball thumped off the upright. Both teams froze momentarily, but White reacted quickest and hoofed the ball away. Dormer needlessly scythed through Smith just outside the Ashton box after Smith and Hayward had interchanged to free Smith for a run into the box. The wall did it's job, but Ashton did themselves no favours when Allison fouled Bowker straight away.
A moment's lack of concentration from Sykes allowed Clee to knock the ball away from Sykes and go running after it. Dootson raced from his box covering the ground well and left Clee second favourite to win the ball, clearing it into touch. From the throw a looped cross from Clee was aimed at Mitten running in, but Keeling read the run well, and conceded the corner rather than the goal. Parr and Dormer went for the ball, and Dormer headed wide.
Hayward and Eastwood were still trying to develop that telepathy of strikers, and almost pulled it off when Hayward created a chance for Eastwood with a disguised reverse pass that left Eastwood with only the keeper to beat, but he didn't get hold of it, and sent the ball over the bar. White was having a super game in the Ashton back line. He first intercepted a sweeping cross from German and then made a lunging block after Smith had made the space for a shot. The block fell to Wharton whose low cross went between Eastwood and Johnson and Thackery put it out for a corner in panic. The defensive line didn't panic when the ball was cleared as far as Smith, his ball back in left three Celtic players offside.
Celtic's back line was quite resolute in the first half, and Ashton were forced to shoot from distance, though a Mitten 30-yard effort was deflected off Bowker for a corner. Walsh was given the corner straight back and proceeded to win a second corner off Wharton, which Dootson caught.
As the game went on longer goalless, Celtic looked more and more dangerous, carving up the visiting defence, and but for a lack of accuracy would have troubled Ashton more. A classic case was Eastwood pulling a defender away, allowing Hayward ample opportunity to square the ball to Sykes running in, but though the ball was struck well, it was wide. Celtic got another chance due to suicidal defending from Johnson sliding two footed through the back of Hayward's legs right on the edge of the box. Again the visiting defence got their angles right as the free kick went square to Smith and the low struck shot hit a defender and was cleared. Wharton found Hayward with a fifty-yard pass, but White got across well and put the ball out for a corner with a well-timed challenge.
For the first time this season, a corner resulted in a goal. Wharton spread the ball to Whealing who lobbed a rapid ball into the box where Eastwood met it with precision and sent the ball straight past the stationary Connor into the back of the net.
It was the last act of the half.
Celtic could have killed Ashton off in the opening exchanges. From a throw, Sykes interchanged with Wharton to turn and face towards goal, he struck a powerful shot low that skimmed just past the upright. Eastwood then carved open another guilt edged chance, when his defence splitting ball put Hayward through one-on-one with Connor. As Hayward advanced all the misses were writ on his face, and the dithering allowed Johnson to get across and slid in, and Connor to come out and smother at Hayward's feet. It was Eastwood's vision again that opened up the Ashton defence, sliding the ball into the path of Smith who struck the ball sweetly, but again White was there to save his keeper, and put the ball out for a corner. Parr again got as thumping header on the ball, just wide this time.
Ashton shook things up a little bit, taking off Walsh and the largely ineffectual Allison, replacing them with Fleury and Adams. The substitution revitalised Ashton and they pushed Celtic further and further back. At one point, a Fleury ball in caused great consternation in the Celtic box, with Celtic somehow keeping the ball away from the net. Clee put a low cross into the box, and Bowker at full stretch diverted it over his own bar. Again, Celtic struggled to clear, and Wharton was forced to put the ball out for a throw. Ashton suddenly developed a long-throw specialist in Clee, but Celtic judged the situation right and broke off the throw, with Smith putting a great low cross into the path of Hayward into the six-yard box. Only a superb tackle by Adams denied Hayward a goal.
Back down the other end, Bowker conceded another corner, this time stopping Clee. Dootson punched unconvincingly, the ball striking Dormer's head and going for a goal kick.
Alcide was brought on for the tiring Mitten and immediately caused problems, with Keeling forced into a great tackle, at the expense of a throw in Clee's specialist area. The long throw was well used, taking a flick off a Celtic head before falling to Thackery at the back post to nod home and equalise.
Celtic had to do it all again, and Smith was the opening through which they tried, beating Carty and sliding the ball to Hayward and Eastwood inside the box, both stabbed at the ball, and eventually won a corner. The corner out to Whealing didn't work this time, and Ashton cleared easily.
However, buoyed by the goal, and the hunger of Alcide, Ashton went looking for a winner, and succeeded in winning another throw inside Clee's range. German read it better this time heading out as far as Dormer, whose instant shot was poor and over. Keeling was forced into another good tackle, putting the ball out for a corner this time. Dootson came and palmed the ball away, but only as far as Garvey, who forced Dootson to palm again from his cross, this time it reached Clee, who fed it back to Alcide. The cross was again palmed away by Dootson, and nodded out for a corner by German.
Alcide could have become an instant hero for Ashton when his head connected with the corner, but he headed straight at Dootson. However, Alcide became the origin of Ashton's downfall when he slid in as second favourite on Dootson smothering a ball. He went in two footed and his studs sliced open Dootson's leg in two places. Dootson was stretchered off the field and taken to Tameside General for stitches, and x-rays.
With no substitute goalkeeper at the club it was a case of needs must. Having played as a striker, a midfielder and a defender, the natural choice was Sykes, who completed his set by donning the keeper's jersey and found his own place in the middle of the park replaced by Bonsall. Who'll take Dootson's place in the FA Cup match at Leek is unknown, but it certainly won't be Dootson, indeed, it is unlikely he'll make whatever game is played on Saturday.
After consultation with the linesman, the referee quite rightly decided that the two-footed challenge was stupid rather than malicious and let Alcide off with a talking too.
It was fellow substitute Adams who completed Ashton's misery. After Dootson's departure Celtic upped the gear and looked hungry again. Bonsall and Eastwood traded passes approaching the box only for Adams to misread the ball completely and slide through Eastwood twenty-yards from goal.
Whealing's free kick was whipped to the back post; Parr nodded it down to Hayward. Hayward needed two goes, but showed great composure when his first stabbed attempt came back off Johnson, and smashed his second attempt into the corner of the goal showing no indecisiveness, no trace of uncertainty, it was classic Hayward. There was some call that Parr had nodded the ball back after it had crossed the line, but the linesman had the best position on the pitch, and gave it the thumbs up.
Celtic were suddenly rampant again. Hayward latched onto a loose all and raced half of the pitch drawing two defenders and squaring to Smith running through the middle. Smith should have hit it first time, but didn't have the time he thought he had, and Carty got across to make the challenge. Smith evaded the challenge, but then rushed his shot, and saw it deflected off Thackery for a corner deep into stoppage time. With the final act of the game, Hayward received the corner and forced Connor into his first save of the match.
The three points and gate receipts are most welcome in this match, but the injury to Dootson is worrying to say the least. They'll be scans on Friday, which leaves him definitely out for any Leek games, and extremely doubtful for the Hucknall or Halifax game. However, Celtic are now only one point adrift in the relegation zone instead of bottom. One win could put them above today's visitors. Along with the recent announcement of the appointment of Peter Wragg in full time charge, with Gordon Armstrong as his number two, there have been more positives than negatives.