Match Report -
A great game
By Iain Benson
Celtic were unable to contain a good, table topping Stafford side in the second half of this match, but deservedly went into the half time interval ahead.

Baker won a corner early on, with a suspicious handball in the box ignored; however, Ellington converted the corner anyway with as much surety as if it had been a spot kick, putting his powerful header past the helpless Williams in the visiting nets. Celtic continued to pass confidently, with Garvey and Banim interchanging nicely to bring a corner back into the danger area, Garvey pulling the ball back for Sykes at the edge of the box, but he shot wide.

Stafford are not top of the table for nothing, and after Thomson?s shot was deflected by Haran for a corner, nobody picked up Street some twenty-five yards out, who received the corner with a stunning half volley that whistled into the top corner well beyond Pettinger?s reach. There really was no stopping it.

Straight from the kick off, Sykes tried the same thing with a superb strike from distance, but Williams made a really good save to deny him. Garvey went close himself moments later when Sykes flicked on a long through and he smacked it goal-wards. With Williams beaten it took the post to rescue Stafford. Garvey was in hunting mood, and Price put him through a flat-footed defence to go one-on-one with Williams, but it was the keeper who came out on top with a great save.

Street tried to repeat his early shot after robbing Price, this time Pettinger got across well to tip the ball over the bar. Banim was causing problems for the defence at the other end, after being fouled from behind by Talbot getting the Stafford man booked, he then took on the whole Stafford defence, weaving past five players before putting in a looping cross for Ellington at the back post, but Williams plucked it from air. Ellington was looking for the goal that would put him top of the goal-scorers chart, and almost got it when he won another corner in the air, but an acrobatic save from Williams denied him. He wouldn?t be denied, and right before the stroke of half time, Keeling knocked the corner down, and Ellington smashed it past Williams.

The second half started with Thomson getting beyond the Celtic defence latching onto a deflected ball from Barnard. Pettinger was out quick and blocked Thomson?s hurried shot well. It was a bit of a niggling opening to the second half, with several fouls committed by both sides. From a Grayson foul on Sykes, Keeling got a foot on the looped free kick at the back post producing a smart stop from Williams.

Pettinger too, was in smart form, as he managed to get to a stunning strike from outside the box by Smith. Smith wasn?t to be denied, and he got the killing blow at the end of a good move by Stafford as they passed the ball square across the Celtic back-line stretching them until a gap appeared that Smith exploited with a powerful, bending shot that Pettinger just couldn?t reach.

Celtic tried to regain the initiative, and Banim won a corner that Price aimed towards goal, only to see Dodd handball right on the edge of the box. Lovatt then came out of the wall too early to charge down the free kick, and got booked. The second attempt saw the ball squared to Ellington whose shot took a deflection requiring an even better save from Williams.

Stafford probably just shaded the balance of play in the second half, and Smith and Thomson were linking up well up front for the visitors. Smith pulled the ball back for Thomson who struck the ball well, but wide. Moments later, the final goal of the game came when Smith timed his run to perfection to latch onto Street?s through ball and go one-on-one with Pettinger. He made no mistake this time.

Despite making a couple of changes, Celtic could not get back into the game, with Stafford bossing the midfield and strong at the back. A couple of chances were created and wasted, but over the ninety minutes, Celtic can have no complaints with the result. They didn?t play badly, Stafford were just the better team, and obviously deserve their top spot.

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