Only a win would be good enough for Celtic. With Vauxhall hosting Runcorn at the same time as this game one or both of Celtic’s relegation rivals would be increasing the gap that Celtic needed to breach. With this in mind, no doubt, Celtic went 4-3-3 in order to batter Redditch into submission. And it worked.
That said, straight from the kick off Redditch went to grab the initiative and Flynn whipped a ball through the six yard box. Fortunately, Dootson was more alert than Rickards who misjudged the flight, missing the cross which was creeping into the far corner until Dootson pushed it around the post for a corner that Pearce easily cleared.
Celtic got a grip on the game. The attacking trio up front looked lively all game, and Parton slid a well weighted ball into the path of Wilford. One-on-one with Anstiss, Wilford looked certain to score, but the visiting keeper produced a great save to push the ball around the post for a corner. The corner came across to Hayward who found Bonsall. Bonsall tried to lift the ball to the back post, but Taylor intercepted, conceding a second corner, that was easily cleared.
Wilford put Celtic straight back on the attack with a square ball to Bonsall that the Celtic midfielder pushed into the path of Wharton. Wharton’s shot zipped narrowly past the upright. Wilford slid the ball into the path of Parton running at pace. The loan player sidestepped one challenge to get into the box, and it took a last-ditch slide challenge from Charlton to put the ball out for a corner. The corner came to Hayward who volleyed his shot with an unwitting Softley blocking for a second corner. This time it came all the way across to Keeling who struck an early shot that was blocked by Taylor at the expense of a third corner. Parton picked up the half cleared corner and Knight took his legs away inside the box without getting the ball, but the referee waved play on.
With the front line looking dangerous, the back line had to just hold firm, but a half clearance fell to Softley who volleyed the ball straight back towards goal, and straight into the midriff of Dootson. The Redditch live-wire striker, Sylla tried to get around the back of Whealing, and succeeded in winning a corner out of the Celtic fullback. The corner was an easy claim for Dootson.
As Keeling was brining a ball out of defence, Taylor brought him crashing down in full flight just inside the Redditch half. Wilford received the free kick, and did all the hard work when he beat three defenders to get into the box. His clever dummy sent Anstiss the wrong way, but his shot whistled just past the post.
Keeling tangled with Softley about thirty yards from the Celtic goal, conceding a soft free kick. Redditch took the free kick quickly from completely the wrong place (a good twenty yards from where the referee was talking to Keeling). Hollis picked the ball up and flashed a cross into the box. Black got his foot on the ball diverting it against the post, and Dootson reacted well to collect the rebound. It was a hair-raising moment.
The first yellow card of the game was given to Wharton for sliding through Hollis just inside the Celtic half. Scheppel took the free kick finding Rickards inside a congested penalty area. He did not get a good contact on his shot, and Dootson just scooped it up.
Though Redditch were getting chances, this was a game for the Celtic forwards, and when Bonsall won a corner out of Softley, things looked ominous. Pearce’s near post flick on to Wilford saw him try and knee the ball into the back of the net, but somehow Taylor got something in the way and lifted the ball over the bar for a second corner. Hayward collected the corner and used a nice trick to bring the ball back into the box, a back heel to Wilford allowed the new striker to also show off his skills to step into a scoring position. Instead, he squared to the better placed Shepherd who struck a powerful shot that ricocheted off Flynn for another corner. Again it was a near post flick from Pearce that put Hayward into space. Charlton charged him down and got the ball cleared as far as Shepherd; his shot was blocked by Knight and cleared properly.
Hayward clumsily challenged Hollis. Such were the theatrics from Hollis, that Hayward was booked. From the free kick, the miraculously recovered Hollis got his head on the ball, diverting it well wide.
Wharton found some space thirty yards out and sent in a screamer of a shot that took an exceptional save from Anstiss to keep the game scoreless. The parried shot fell to Parton who tried to blast it into the net, but Anstiss recovered well and produced a stunning second save to put the ball out for a corner that was cleared comfortably by Knight.
At the other end, Whealing was out muscled and sent sprawling by Softley, who then kicked the ball off him for a corner. The corner was headed a long way wide by Hollis.
When Sylla came rushing halfway across the pitch to slide through Wilford, the referee had no option but to book the league’s second top scorer. The free kick fell to Shepherd just outside the six-yard box who somehow lifted his shot over the bar and ended the last attack of the half.
Redditch came out in the second half looking to grab an early goal again. Wharton gave them their first chance with a clumsy challenge on Softley in the centre circle, but Keeling was on hand to clear. It then took a good sliding block by Keeling to stop Rickards from grabbing that goal. Bonsall easily cleared the resulting corner.
Again Celtic got back into the game quickly and through the attackers. Parton raced through the mud and whipped a cross through the six-yard box. Gray missed the clearance and the ball fell to a surprised looking Wilford. He wasn’t surprised for long and smacked the ball towards goal, only to see another stupendous save from Anstiss. The rebound fell to Bonsall who tried to lift the ball to the back post, but Anstiss had recovered and plucked the ball out of the air.
The second half saw more attacking from Redditch and Sylla was allowed to turn inside the box and shoot, only to see a great stop from Dootson. Moments later, Dootson was called on again when a ball from Softley was lifted over the defence and Hollis volleyed. Dootson got across well and palmed it away.
However, Celtic’s continued attacking dominance saw Wilford lift the ball over the defence, Hayward race through to beat the offside trap. Anstiss raced to narrow the angle and a deft flick from Hayward lifted the ball over the advancing keeper and in off the far post to give Celtic a well-deserved lead.
Celtic still hadn’t finished and Whealing held off his man long enough to free Wilford who won a corner out of Knight, that Taylor cleared. Redditch couldn’t clear the pressure though, and Rickards courted a yellow card with his foul on Hayward, but Celtic couldn’t convert the chance.
A bit of breathing space for Redditch allowed them to mount an attack of their own as Hollis lifted the ball over Pearce and into the path of Sylla who struck the ball first time wide of the mark.
Anstiss was on spectacular form, and when Hayward lifted the ball over the Redditch defence for Parton to run onto, Parton watched the flight of the ball not the advancing keeper, so as the ball came down, Anstiss cleared and Parton swung at air. Parton’s hard to suppress though, and another good through ball from Hayward freed Parton to get into the box and strike a thunderous shot at goal. Anstiss produced yet another cracking save to deny him and then a sliding block from Knight to deny him any joy off the rebound at the expense of a corner. Anstiss came through a crowd and claimed the corner comfortably.
Celtic had a second penalty decision turned down when Charlton slid right through Bonsall after he’d laid the ball off. The referee booked Charlton and awarded a free kick right on the edge of the area. The free kick was missed by a hairs-width by Sykes (on for Pearce who’d pulled a calf muscle), zipping out for a goal kick. Bonsall was replaced after the terrible tackle by Ben Smith, and his first touch was to slide the ball into the path of Parton. Knight grabbed and pulled at him all the way, but Parton had the strength to hold him off and snap off a shot that scooted narrowly wide.
As the game went into the end-game, Redditch were getting increasingly desperate and throwing men forward. Rickards tried to muscle his way through, but Sykes held firm enough to put the ball out for a corner, which was cleared and Celtic continued to press.
Wharton found more space as Redditch tried to adjust, and put Parton in on a diagonal run. The shot was superb, bending ever so slightly wide and into the side netting. Wharton was full of running, and even managed to track Scheppel back as he went on a run, sliding in to take the sting out of a shot, giving Dootson an easy catch.
Celtic really should have doubled their lead with ten minutes to go. Wilford put Hayward through with a great little ball. Hayward curled his shot around Anstiss, and it was going in all the way, until Scheppel got across and put enough of a boot on it to divert the ball onto the post and out. Flynn helped keep the ball in the Redditch half with a deliberate handball about thirty-five yards from goal. The free kick was taken short to Wilford who was hauled around by Charlton just outside the box, but the free kick was bizarre and wasted.
Redditch nearly snatched it at the death when Sykes put his head on a ball Dootson had called for, trying to nod it back to his keeper. Sylla nipped in and tried to force the ball across the line, but from close range Dootson somehow pushed the ball away and around the post for a corner. Appleton, a striker brought on for Taylor the midfielder, got a free head on the ball, but couldn’t keep it down and sent it high over the bar.
In the fifth minute of the added four, Sykes was forced to concede a corner to stop Appleton’s cross, Dootson caught and the referee decided enough was enough and Celtic took their first home victory of 2005 to rapturous applause off the terraces.
This was a great win. Redditch’s attack is one of the best in the league, and combination of Keeling and Pearce kept them at bay, with Pearce having an excellent game. The talk of the town was the threesome striking partnership who never gave the visiting defence a moments rest, stopping them from building any kind of momentum.