Celtic are one step closer to safety after an absolutely vital win against Stafford. Both sides were depleted by injury, but Celtic had much more at stake than the visitors.
With nothing at stake in the game, though, Stafford looked relaxed, and Daniel didn't look too upset that after waltzing Willis, his shot was blocked on route to the back post by Sykes and Keeling.
The nerves at the other end were obvious. Wilford brought a looping ball down well and fed it into the path of Parton. Parton still had a lot to do but a burst of pace took him past the Stafford defence, and with only the keeper to beat and the angle getting narrower, he put his shot over the bar. Shepherd then laid off the ball to Wharton who looped it to the back post for Parton, but Gibson put the cross out for a corner. Wharton got his head on Shepherd's corner, and forced a save out of Anyon under pressure from Parton.
Willis put a great ball in over the top, Steve Smith left his marker for dead, and Anyon had to be brave collecting the ball as Steve Smith went to bring it down. Black overlapped with Smith and fed the ball into the box for Parton to chase. Parton did so, and forced the keeper into an error in conceding a corner. Stafford didn't look comfortable off the corner, but eventually it fell kindly for Anyon who scooped it up.
The best chance of the half fell to Stafford. Edward's cross field ball came to Talbott who smacked the ball with a lot of pace and it required an excellent save from Dootson to deny him. Willis cleared the corner.
Black took a throw in, that Willis instantly lobbed over the defence. Again Smith left them flat-footed, and his thunderous shot took an unwitting deflection off Beale for a corner. Wilford's shot from the corner was blocked, and the rebound came to Parton. He smuggled it from between his legs and shot. Anyon was going the wrong way and Chris Smith blocked on the line. From the resulting throw, Parton smashed a shot from an acute angle across the face of goal with the Stafford defence all at sea. Sykes threw himself at the ball, missing by inches.
Celtic looked to be the team on top, and a long throw from Whealing was nodded on by Wilford to Steve Smith who once more left his defenders behind to hit a powerful strike that left Anyon with no chance of reaching it, but it smacked off the bar and came out to Wharton who tried the instant shot but Grayson was back defending, and made a good block. Shepherd flicked on Keeling's ball into the path of Parton. He brought it down beautifully, before turning Beale inside out and having a shot, but it lacked the needed power and Anyon saved.
Stafford got handed a chance when Black tangled with Beale on the halfway line. The free kick was floated into the back post and nodded down to Daniel who tried to side foot the ball into the far corner, leaving Dootson scrambling across his line to reach it, but he did.
Parton tried to race past Chris Smith, and was held. Shepherd's free kick curled around the wall and Anyon had to come. The Stafford keeper looked suspect, punching the ball over his own bar. The corner was cleared as far as Black whose ball back in saw Sykes volley over the bar.
The game was becoming end-to-end, and Keeling had to be alert when Talbott lofted the ball over the Celtic defence for Grayson to run onto. Keeling tracked him well and put the ball out for a corner. Willis cleared the corner, freeing Steve Smith to race at the Stafford goal. Beale was the last defender and slid in from behind to cynically bring Steve Smith down. Steve Smith was still some distance from goal, and though Beale was the last man, awarded the yellow card only, which was fair. What wasn't fair was not making the wall go back ten yards and Shepherd's free kick hit it, and went for a corner. The corner went all the way across to Wharton who tried to lob it back to Shepherd, but it was just too high.
Steve Smith forced Beale into conceding a corner. Sykes flicked the near post effort on to Wilford. Wilford struck it first time, but the keeper read the flight well and made a decent save.
With the half running out, it looked like Stafford would issue a classic sucker punch. A long ball down field, Edwards latched onto and flashed a shot across the face for Daniel racing in, but the Stafford forward couldn't get a boot on it. The same was true moments later when Willis and Downes tangled twenty yards from the Celtic goal, but Downe's free kick was well wide.
Celtic almost started the second half with a goal. Black whipped in a cross, and Anyon flapped it away from Parton at the near post, the ball flying across the face of goal, but Wilford coming in at the back post couldn't quite get his boot on the ball. Edwards then brought down Wharton twenty yards out, but the free kick wasted, as Wharton couldn't curl it far enough.
Wharton was not to be denied though, and he latched onto Parton's ball into the box, one-on-one with Anyon, the Stafford keeper advanced, and Wharton smashed it past him with his right foot to put Celtic into the lead.
Celtic didn't play to hang onto the lead this time, and Parton was on his way towards goal with the ball when McAughtrie brought him down. McAughtrie then got his head on the free kick to clear, but Celtic kept pressing and Dodd conceded the corner. Wharton couldn't double his tally off the corner, shooting over the bar. Black looped a cross into the box for Wilford, who nodded it on to Parton. Parton got good contact as he turned and shot, deflecting off Dodd for a corner. Again Stafford looked uncomfortable off the corner, but eventually, it bounced off Wilford for a goal kick.
Steve Smith twisted and turned in the box, and forced Anyon into a really good smothering save. It looked like the keeper would lose it, and Wilford came steaming into to catch any crumbs. McAughtrie took offence at that and took a swing at Wilford. Wilford retaliated pushing McAughtrie away, and both were shown a yellow card.
Shepherd and Grayson went challenging for the ball on the half way line, Grayson won out, winning a free kick. It was also Grayson who won out in the box, getting his head on the ball, but Dootson had it covered. Stafford also managed to work a couple of corners out of the home defence, but on each occasion they were meat and drink for Willis, Keeling, Sykes and co.
Celtic were really looking to reduce their goal difference though, and Parton cross in almost did that when Chris Smith's clearance almost went into his own net. The corner was returned to Shepherd, who tried to curl it into the top corner, but Talbott headed off the line. It should have been another corner, but a goal kick was the result.
Quick thinking from Smith and Parton won a corner out of Chris Smith. The pinging corner flashed around the box eventually coming to Steve Smith, and his shot from the edge of the box was over the bar.
Whealing conceded a corner trying to shepherd the ball out from Fife. The corner was cleared as far as Daniel, and Keeling had to clear off the line. Edwards then crossed in from the wing; substitute Miller was at the back post but his header was wide, and Stafford wouldn't get another chance.
Jubilation around the ground doubled when news of Runcorn's loss at the hands of Kettering came in. It means, like last season, Celtic have to beat Hucknall; this time, though, at home.