They say that football is a funny old game, and Celtic proved this by knocking Harrogate out of the competition after losing Phil Eastwood to a stretcher- requiring injury and then scoring three goals all in the last ten minutes of the game.
Harrogate were a different team in the two hales, strong and quick in the first, slow and negative in the second. Their intent was clear from the off when they won a corner inside thirty seconds when Shepherd got the better of Sykes. Priestly got a touch of the ball sooner than expected, plucking the poor corner out of the air without challenge. Eastwood brought Priestley's punt down well. Krief then impeded him illegally and the free kick was headed out for a corner by Dunning.
The corner amounted to nothing, but Celtic looked bright and soon Ben Smith had worked some space for a powerful low drive that Pettinger in the visitor's nets could only parry. Hayward came across like a whippet and cut the ball back, producing another good stop from the Town keeper, putting the ball around the post for a corner. The corner came across to Hayward who lifted it back to Keeling, whose powerful header Pettinger caught. Celtic looked quite deadly though.
However, Harrogate soon regained the upper hand, and looked unlikely to relinquish it again. Loan-striker Donaldson fed a well-weighted ball into the path of Shepherd, but Wharton deflected his shot over the bar for a corner. Priestley punched the corner clear, but Hayward's clumsy challenge on Dunning kept the pressure on Celtic. Sykes got good contact on the free kick, heading it well clear.
Harrogate were controlling the midfield, and it wasn't long before another corner came this way, this time courtesy of Caldecott intercepting a looping cross from Turley. Marc Smith got his head on the near post corner, but put it over the bar. The corner was not cleared convincingly, and Keeling had to intercept a through ball from Shepherd at the expense of a second corner. Again, Celtic couldn't clear their lines, eventually, Smith putting a decent boot on and hoofing the ball away.
Former Celtic winger, Turley managed to work himself some space after latching onto a poor pass, but his shot from distance was tame, and an easy catch for Celtic's new keeper.
Harrogate weren't having it all their own way, and some fine work by Ben Smith allowed him to feed the ball to Eastwood. Eastwood's turn was sheer skill, losing his marker and allowing him to drive a low shot towards goal, Pettinger would not have reached it, but it shaved the far post as it went out anyway.
Donaldson then punished the miss when he went on a mazy run into the Celtic box that ended with a clumsy foul inside the box by Bowker, giving Harrogate the chance to open the scoring. Turley had to be the man to take it, against his former club; he swept the ball beyond the reach of Priestley. Harrogate were one up, and probably deserved to be.
Harrogate continued to press, and Marc Smith took advantage of a lazy pass from Sykes to race towards goal. Keeling got back really well, and slid in to put the ball out for a corner. The corner was wasted, and Celtic used the eased pressure to build some of their own, stinging together some excellent passed, that culminated in enough space for Wharton to try his luck from the edge of the box, Dunning stuck out a leg, and diverted the ball over the bar for a corner. Marc Smith was back on defensive duties, and headed the corner clear.
Just before the break, Donaldson again went on a mazy run, falling over nothing inside the box, the referee waved him up, and he sprang to his feet to win a corner out of Bowker. Hayward's header out was not convincing, and Turley picked it up, picked his spot and lobbed the ball to the back post where Haran had a free header to nod the ball into the back of the net. Celtic were two down, and things were looking bleak.
Harrogate came out of the tunnel in the second half with a game plan of time-wasting and disruptive play. This was probably their undoing. Hayward collected the ball in the corner and won a corner out of Barnard, but the corner was wasted. Moments later, Eastwood found enough space to have a cracker of a shot from just inside the box, producing an excellent save from Pettinger. Parr latched onto the loose ball and tried to blast it past the keeper from a narrow angle, again Pettinger made a great stop to deny him.
More good work from Hayward opened up enough of a gap to thread the ball through to Wharton, but running in the Celtic midfielder put his shot over the bar. Dunning fouled Eastwood out near the touchline. Pettinger punched Caldecott's free kick. The punch was poor, spinning out for a corner. The corner was a dangerous one, and Harrogate couldn't clear it properly, the ball falling to the edge of the box where Caldecott came steaming in, and blasted the ball through a crowd inches wide of the upright.
Wharton made an intelligent pass to free Ben Smith, he cut a fine low cross back into the box, where Hayward and Eastwood were sliding in, but Pettinger cut the cross out with a great deal of bravery. Wharton won the ball back quickly, and brought the ball to the touchline, with nowhere to go, he won a corner out of Dunning. Bowker headed wide.
Celtic were playing some good looking football as the half wore on, but there was no end product. Hayward's strength and skill held off Wood and Haran long enough to put the ball into Eastwood's feet; Eastwood's first time shot left Pettinger rooted to the spot, as it curled inches wide of the far post.
It was time to shake things up a little bit, and Steve Smith was brought on in place of Bowker. He immediately got stuck in, interchanging with Ben Smith and fed the ball to Eastwood. Eastwood took the ball wide and looped a cross into the box for Hayward to throw himself at; he did, narrowly missing the ball.
Harrogate were handed a chance to put the game beyond Celtic. Donaldson again went to ground rather easily just outside the box with Sykes applying the pressure. The free kick was curled around the wall and the post for a goal kick.
More changes ensued, with Caldecott replaced by Calcutt, and Celtic then had to make a change when Eastwood charged down Dunning stopping the clearance with his head and collapsing. Pettinger was forced to make a save off the rebound, but more worrying was the fact that Eastwood was stretchered from the pitch with Concussion and two twisted knees. Whealing was brought on to replace him.
Harrogate tried to take advantage of a reorganising Celtic, and Shepherd got behind Whealing and lashed off a shot that trundled well wide.
But this was a Celtic show now.
A free kick from Wharton was blocked on route to goal coming to Steve Smith. He didn't think twice and blasted it towards the net, forcing a necessary block from Dunning, with the ball falling to Wharton. Wharton had more time than he thought, and put his shot over the bar.
With all the pressure coming from Celtic, Harrogate were always going to be able to break, and with the pace of Turley, they did just that, the diminutive winger racing into open field. As the defence converged and Priestley narrowed the angle, he cut it back for Donaldson, whose shot went across the face and straight to Priestley. It was a clear-cut chance, and Donaldson spurned it.
Celtic continued to up the pressure, and Ben Smith raced past Barnard to whip a ball into the danger area. With Eastwood off, Sykes had gone up front, and he met the ball with his thigh, diverting it towards goal and forcing Pettinger into another good stop.
Celtic got their reward for their pressure when Steve Smith bombed down the pitch, tricked his way past Turley, jinked his way past Wood and drew Sturdy. With all avenues cut off, somehow he had the presence of mind to pull the ball back to the penalty spot where Wharton was running in, and it was a simple side foot home that Pettinger could do nothing about. Cue an exciting last five minutes.
Calcutt showed Celtic what he can do when fit. He picked up the ball on the wing, looked to have knocked it too far, slid in and knocked it beyond Barnard, leaving the Harrogate man out of position, got back to his feet and slid the ball through to Hayward. Hayward turned and saw Ben Smith running in, put it into his path and Ben Smith slid in to touch the ball under Pettinger. Celtic were level.
Barnard then made an even bigger blunder. Calcutt again picked up the ball on the wing and he lifted it past the fullback. Barnard may never be able to explain why he stuck out his arm to knock the ball away inside the box, leaving the referee no option but to point to the spot for the second time in the game. Calcutt took the penalty in stoppage time, coolly sending Pettinger the wrong way and putting Celtic into the lead.
Harrogate had no time to do anything, but they tried. Shepherd raced into the corner and tried to find substitute Hunter with his pull back, but Priestley read it well, and cut it out. With Priestley's punt still in the air, the referee blew full time and Celtic had pulled off an unlikely win.
How Celtic won this one remains a mystery. Harrogate were the stronger team, and deserved their two-goal half time lead. However, the determination of Celtic won them the second half. The introduction of Steve Smith turned the game, and all credit has to go to the manager for doing it. As with Ashton, the joy is tempered by the injury to Eastwood.