Match Report -
Cue the party
By Iain Benson
Stalybridge Celtic secured Conference North status next season with a good display against a determined but depleted Hucknall side. The visitor's keeper was stuck in traffic, but it is doubtful he would have stopped either goal, and the Hucknall defence may not have been as resolute knowing they had a shot stopped behind them.

Hucknall may have been depleted in terms of regulars, but the players that put out wanted to ensure a place in the FA Trophy final, and were all playing at the top of their game. Winder indicated this intent from the off when he slid through Wilford, leaving the Celtic striker requiring treatment, but getting nary a hint of a free kick from the referee.

The Hucknall defence had to be constantly alert, and the extra nerves of having a centre-half in goal led to one or two nervous moments for the visiting defence. One such moment came in the opening minutes when Shepherd's lob into the box left the Hucknall defenders scrambling around to block efforts from the Celtic contingent before the ball came back to Shepherd and his shot went wide.

Hucknall won a corner through the industry of Koshimov, forcing Keeling into a last-ditch block. It took two attempts, but Celtic got the ball clear.

The makeshift keeper was tested when Steve Smith worked half an inch of space between Brown and Scott to fire off a shot, but Cooke made a comfortable catch. Brown then bundled over Wilford just outside the box, and Hucknall hoofed down the far end, where an identical incident took place between Whealing and Koshimov, with the referee four times the distance from this incident, the free kick was given, but wasted.

Celtic continued to build though, and set up a series of moves that culminated in Wilford knocking the ball down for Wharton who teed up his shot, span on the spot and volleyed towards the top corner. Many a full time keeper would have been proud of the tip round Cooke pulled off. The corner was cleared, but Celtic kept the pressure on when Winder fouled Wilford on the half way line, and from the free kick a bear-hug from Rowlands on Wilford saw struggle into the box with his additional burden before collapsing. Celtic were awarded a free kick right on the edge of the area, kind of midway between where the foul started and where it ended.

The free kick turned out to be perfectly placed though. Shepherd curled a beautiful bending shot around the wall and into the top corner. Cooke was rooted, as would any keeper be; it was a stunning free kick, well executed.

Celtic relaxed not one iota, and Wilford started the end of a great move, knocking the ball on to Parton, who tapped it on to Whealing, the instant curling cross was met firmly by Parton, but Cooke pulled off a good save to deny the Celtic striker. Steve Smith found a little chink of space between the Hucknall defence to fire off a shot through a crowd; Cooke saw it late, and made another good stop. Wilford laid off the ball into the path of Wharton, who took the shot from just outside the box, but shot wide.

Wilford was getting a lot of attention from the home defence, and Plummer climbed on him like a climbing frame just outside the box. Sykes got his head on the free kick, but directed it over the bar. Wilford managed to stay defender free moments later as he twisted and turned in the box, with his back to goal he span and shot, but shot wide. With Hucknall on the back foot, Wharton won a corner out of Koshimov, as the Hucknall winger tracked back with his opposite number. The corner was cleared as far as Black, but Celtic were caught offside from the returning ball.

Hucknall didn't want to lose the game, and Hunter, a ?regular? was brought on at half time. Cooke was doing well enough in goal that the regular keeper who had just arrived and got changed was left on the bench.

Celtic continued in the second half as they had ended in the first. Wharton put a smart diagonal ball into the box for Parton to run onto. With Cooke narrowing the angle, Parton struck the ball first time over the bar. Smith tried to burst past Koshimov, but was held twenty yards from goal. Wilford lashed at the free kick, and Cooke made a great stop, the rebound coming out to Parton, he smashed it back towards goal, but Rowlands threw himself into its path. Sykes was next in the queue blasting a low shot in, but Brown put his body in the way of it, with the rebound going to Steve Smith, and his shot went into the side netting.

Wharton again put Parton into the box with a difficult ball. Parton knocked it past Cooke who grabbed Parton around the middle and dragged him to the ground at the edge of the six-yard box to stop him having a simple side foot finish. Given that the referee had blown for every slight tug, sneeze or clash it had to be a penalty ? but nothing was given and it could not have been any more blatant.

Celtic just had to go about it the old fashioned way and Parton won a corner off Winder. From the corner Smith's shot at the back post was blocked on the line by Plummer, and as Wilford shielded the loose ball from the attentions of Winder, the Hucknall defender kicked Wilford's legs in an attempt to get the ball. Wilford went down in a heap and the referee blew his whistle ? surely for a penalty! But no, Wilford was penalised instead.

Smith was brought down again by Koshimov as the Hucknall player couldn't match Smith's burst of pace. Shepherd's free kick was headed by Wilford towards goal, but Brown got his head on it to divert it over the bar for a goal kick. Celtic got the corner they deserved off that a few moments later as Parton knocked the ball out off Brown. The corner was cleared as far as Willis, but his shot from distance was wide.

Breaking out from their own half saw Black foul Burke thirty five yards out. Dootson had something to do when he came to claim the free kick, though it took him two attempts. Dootson punted long down field. Burke swung at the bouncing ball and missed, leaving Parton to race onto the loose ball and go one-on-one with Cooke. Parton made absolutely sure, leaving Cooke with no chance of saving it and Celtic took a two goal lead, and suddenly they could relax a little.

Celtic didn't relax though, they went hunting a third, memories of Worksop still fresh. Wilford took advantage of Cooke's inexperience to force an error out of the stand-in keeper, but his shot from an acute angle struck the far post and was cleared. Celtic kept coming though and Willis saw his distance driven shot deflected by an unwitting Rowlands for a corner, that Hucknall cleared ? eventually. Keeling was allowed the time and space to keep advancing from the defence deep into the Hucknall half. He rode a couple of rough challenges before being scythed down by Harding, but the resulting free kick was poor.

A long punt up field was collected by Ward, who found himself suddenly with only Keeling and Dootson to beat. He dithered and dallied and when his pass to Koshimov finally came, Dootson was able to read it and come out to scoop it up ahead of Koshimov ? it was possibly Hucknall's best chance of the game to that point. Koshimov obviously thought that Dootson might have fallen asleep when he tried a speculative forty yard effort, but Dootson could have been asleep as the shot was straight at him.

Hucknall were slowly getting into the game as Celtic eased off. Shepherd fouled the jinking Koshimov outside the Celtic box. The free kick was put in with some pace and Brown headed it wide.

Ben Smith and Parr were brought on as Hucknall too made changes bringing on two further regulars, including prolific goal scorer Bacon.

Ben Smith's first touch saw him expertly break the offside trap to get onto Parton's through ball. From an acute angle he lobbed the keeper and the ball rolled along the face of the crossbar before being cleared. The injection of Smith and Parr had reawakened the Celtic team, and they were once more pushing forward. Parr was getting into a good position before he was bundled clumsily over by Winder, but Shepherd's free kick was a blasted shot that sailed over the bar.

Parton was bear-hugged by Winder inside the box, but still managed to lay the ball off to Willis, who flicked it to Wilford at the edge of the six-yard box. Wilford blasted it towards goal, and Todd blocked it for a corner. For an infringement vastly less severe than the bear-hug, Hucknall were awarded a free kick.

With time running out, Hucknall were handed a glorious chance. A long pass up field was left by Sykes for Dootson, but Bacon spied his chance and raced onto the ball. Dootson came out and snatched the ball off Bacon's feet.

Celtic tried to play possession in the corners, but Hucknall won it back and Hunter tried his luck from outside the box, requiring an excellent tip-over from Dootson. Celtic cleared the corner, but in his haste, Ben Smith tangled with Koshimov forty yards from goal. Keeling's header span the ball into the air and Dootson came through a crowd to punch the ball clear and the referee put Celtic out of their misery by blowing for full time.

For the second time in two seasons Celtic had beaten Hucknall Town in order to secure Conference North status in the penultimate game. It was also the first time that Celtic had won a game by two clear goals, since Hucknall Town in that very same game. It was a weakened Hucknall Town, but they were up for it, and made for a good game. Their make-shift keeper did okay, and was not at fault for either goal. As usual, there were penalties not given but none of that matters as Celtic look forward to another season in the Conference North.