Stalybridge Celtic march into the GLS National Conference Cup final to face Woking after full-time Accrington Stanley held Celtic at 0-0 right through to penalties. Both sides were fielding sides with players that hadn't appeared for a while, with Celtic missing Dootson and Wilford through injury, and Black, Shepherd and Willis through being cup-tied. However, it was a thoroughly entertaining game.
Celtic really should have taken the lead in the opening minute. Hayward held up the ball well before getting the ball to Parton inside the six yard box. Swamped by Defenders, Parton put the ball to the back post where Parr waited, unmarked, with an empty net. Somehow Parr scuffed his shot, and sent the ball spinning wide. Haskins then put Hayward through the offside trap, but Kennedy was off his line quickly and smothered at Hayward's feet.
Accrington's first chance came from a free kick when Sykes slightly impeded Prendergast just outside the area, but the free kick deflected off the wall and went for a corner, which Sykes cleared as far as Prendergast. Keeling headed his cross out for another corner, which was wasted.
Celtic got a free kick of their own, just outside the box when Parton surged past Jon Smith and the Stanley defender (and previous transfer target of Celtic's) brought him down. Atkins? free kick was wicked, bending and dipping, requiring an excellent parry by Kennedy. Wharton brought the half clearance back into the box; he threaded the ball through a crowd to the back post where Parr was arriving. Parr got his shot on target, but a stuck out foot deflected it up and over the bar for a corner. The corner was punched by Kennedy as far as Haskins. Haskin's blasted the ball back where it came from through a crowd and produced another good stop from Stanley's returning keeper.
The first card of the evening was shown to Stanley, as Jagielka slid through Sykes after he?d lain off the ball. Celtic played the free kick for possession, and pinged the ball around. Haskins put a superb ball through the defence and Parton obliged by latching onto it and striking a powerful early strike. Kennedy made an excellent save to keep the score-line blank.
It was by no means all one way traffic and Prendergast's cross was met at the back post by Barry, but it lacked power and direction, and Robinson caught easily. Bowker was then harshly adjudged to have fouled Prendergast near the corner flag, after cleanly taking the ball of the Stanley man. Sykes headed the free kick out for a corner, which Celtic scrambled clear. Wharton was equally harshly adjudged to have fouled Flitcroft thirty yards from goal, for generally disagreeing with the decision, Sykes was booked. The free kick was wasted, but when there was a mix-up in communication between Keeling and Robinson, McEvilly nipped in and his stubbed shot was deflected off Robinson's knee for a corner. A training ground corner-routine resulted in Robinson catching.
Celtic's traditional moment of controversy came just past the half hour mark when Jon Smith blatantly slid through the back of Hayward getting not even a toe on the ball. Anywhere else it would have been a foul ? in the box, it was waved away. Bonsall got on with the job, and won a corner off Jon Smith, Barry cleared, but Wharton won another off Howarth. Atkins received the corner back and blasted a superb shot that took a large deflection off an unwitting Howarth for a second corner. Parr got his header on it, but Kennedy caught.
As the half was running out, McEvilly got beyond Sykes, but had been forced wide; nevertheless he produced a powerful shot that Robinson could only claim at the second attempt. To end the half, Accrington won a series of corners and free kicks, but stout defending kept the visitors at bay to go into the dressing rooms at 0-0.
Celtic started the second half in buoyant form. An early chance fell to Parr form a corner, but Kennedy caught, before Parr nodded a lofted Haskin's ball into the path of Parton. It was a tight angle and Parton dragged his shot wide across the face of goal. Atkins got a chance a moment later to get his first goal for Celtic when he latched onto a throw and smacked a powerful curling shot that took an unwitting deflection for a corner that Stanley scrambled clear. Celtic carved out another opening when a determined Parton reached a loose ball and threaded it across the six yard box; Haskins couldn't get a sufficient touch on the ball to put it in the back of the net, but got enough on it to stop Hayward from putting the ball away. Celtic kept coming, and Parton won a corner out of Howarth. The half cleared corner came back to Atkins who struck a thunderous shot and produced a top-notch save from Kennedy. Some nice interchanging between Bonsall and Wharton gave Wharton the space to try a curling shot to the top corner, but it cleared the bar.
Accrington got the rub of the black when Bonsall inadvertently handled on the half way line, Howarth's free kick in was tamely headed to Robinson from McEvilly.
A second handball, equally inadvertent was given Celtic's way thirty yards out, and Kennedy got a powerful punch on it. Steve Smith was then flattened by McEvilly near the dug outs after he?d laid off the ball. McEvilly was booked. The free kick was taken for possession and eventually came to Bonsall who made a yard of space, and struck a superb shot that beat Kennedy, struck the inside of the post and came back out. Parton latched onto it, an acute angle, and forced a good save out of Kennedy.
A clumsy, but innocuous challenge by Bowker on Roberts resulted in Bowker's name going into the referee's book. The free kick went wide, but not by much. Accrington suddenly upped a gear as the game went into the final few minutes, and Sykes was forced to concede a corner stopping Flitcroft's cross, which Robinson caught in a crowd. The main architect behind Stanley's upped impetus was substitute Mullin, Stanley's top scorer. It was he who won a corner off Keeling in stoppage time. Mullin also got his head on the corner, but with time ticking away, put his header over the bar, a goal by Stanley then would have been a cruel blow.
Instead the game went into extra time.
If Accrington had been expecting Celtic to tire, they were surprised. However, the full time team looked to have a little extra in the tank, and Mullin found Flitcroft with a defence splitting ball. Flitcroft had an acute angle, but it still required a good stop by Robinson to keep the scores level. A Bonsall foul on the half way line allowed Stanley to put another good ball into the box, which Sykes cleared well. However, McEvilly soon brought it back and found Mullin with a pin-point cross that Mullin headed off the bar. Celtic conceded a couple of tired-leg fouls, the second of which was cleared only as far as Jagielka. His floating shot wasn't that far wide.
Celtic nearly got an own goal when Parton's cross in was volleyed just past his own post by Howarth. The corner came as far as Steve Smith who half volleyed through a crowd only narrowly wide. Steve Smith was involved again moments later when he put a well-weighted ball through the defence, Parton's shot was smothered by Kennedy, the rebound coming back to Smith, with Kennedy still on the floor, Smith tried to curl the ball into the top corner, but put the ball just over the bar.
Stanley got the ball into the back of the net after Roberts? cross was headed by Mullin off the bar. Brannan was on hand to nod in the rebound, but he?d been offside.
Celtic started the second period of extra time with a loose pass from Wharton that forced Bonsall into conceding a corner. The corner routine was another training ground routine, coming out to Howarth, his shot was palmed away by Robinson, and as he tried to smother it, he was fouled.
The game was end-to-end, and Bonsall's diagonal through ball found Wharton darting into the box, he struck the shot first time, but put the ball over the bar. Bonsall then tried again, with another ball into Wharton's path, Flitcroft had tracked Wharton all the way from the halfway line and slid in to put the ball out for a corner. Parr tried to get his head on it, but Kennedy caught. A long throw found McEvilly, Bowker was adjudged to have obstructed him just inside the Accrington half, the referee reached for his pocket, and showed Bowker a second yellow (a harsh one at that) and sent the Celtic defender for an early bath. Accrington wasted the free kick, and the game went to penalties.
Accrington were up to shoot first, and it was McEvilly. Robinson went right; the ball went left, low into the bottom corner. Parton stepped up and blasted the ball into the bottom corner beyond Kennedy's reach. Brannan put his ball left, and again Robinson dove right, but Wharton equalised sending Kennedy the wrong way. Flitcroft tucked his away, again shooting left and sending Robinson right, but Paul Sykes made sure putting his shot into the top corner with a confident penalty. Butler's turn came, he shot right, and Robinson dove right and blocked the penalty with a really good two fisted block. The pressure was on Ben Smith, but he didn't crack, instead putting the ball just beyond the fingertips of Kennedy.
It came down to Howarth, if he missed, Stanley were out. He didn't, he put the ball right, and this time Robinson had gone left.
The whole one hundred and thirty minutes came down to one man. Andy Hayward. To cries of ?Thierry Hayward? from the stands, he placed the ball and struck a superb penalty that Kennedy had no chance of reaching even if he had gone the right way.
Celtic had done it. They were through to the grand final of the GLS cup to face Woking, and a thoroughly deserved win it was too.