Match Report -
Rusty Celtic scrape through
By Iain Benson
Celtic didn?t produce a vintage performance by any means, but with ten days since their last competitive fixture, the players were a little rusty. None so much as Jody Banim, who made a welcome return rather sooner than expected, but looked a little off the pace. A couple of games should see him back to his mercurial best. Also missing was Chris Price, serving the second game of his three match ban. Nor were Solihull up to full strength, missing their leading scorer and goal keeper.

Having dumped both Harrogate and Hednesford from the competition, nobody expected this to be an easy game, and so it proved, with the visitors disrupting the rusty Celts. Prince won an early corner, but Haran?s header was straight at Hayes in the visitor?s goal. Solihull appeared to be relying on the pace of Pearson up front to get them a goal, and he was quick, getting behind the defence to snap off a smart shot, but Pettinger was up to it, and got down well. He tried again moments later, but lacked the power to trouble Pettinger. Just after the half hour mark, he again latched onto a hopeful ball and produced a stronger strike, but still couldn?t best Pettinger.

At the other end, Sykes headed over from a floated in free kick before Ellington got the best chance of the half, as Garvey?s low cross was turned towards goal with Hayes well out of position, fortunately for the visitors, Barry was on hand to slide through and block the shot for a corner that Haran headed narrowly wide.

At the start of the second half there was a little controversy. Haran slid in to dispossess Grandison, fairly taking the ball. Grandison stayed down, apparently injured. During a Celtic attack, the ref stopped play. Barnard grabbed Grandison?s shirt to pull him to his feet, at which point Grandison recovered miraculously and lunged at Barnard. Barnard was justly penalised, but Grandison escaped his play acting and retaliation without even a word. Had he been booked, his later yellow card offence would have seen him dismissed.

The game?s tempo speeded up somewhat, with both sides feeling aggrieved. A foul by Haran on Arshad saw Dutton try and curl the ball around the wall, Pettinger only parried the shot, allowing Pearson to nip in and stab the ball towards goal. Celtic had men back, with Kilbane blocking on the line and putting it out for a corner. Pearson did get the ball past Pettinger moments later when he went one-on-one with the Celtic custodian, but he put the ball into the side netting.

There had been moments of great football from Celtic, but though the passing was good, the final ball into the box had not been picked up, or had been well defended. With Banim obviously tiring Eastwood was brought on to replace him, and made an almost immediate difference. He started a move that saw the ball cross the field twice, with Black and Sykes interchanging before Prince and Barnard interchanged. Barnard crossed to the back post, and Eastwood ghosted in unmarked to loop his header over the stranded Hayes.

Pearson remained Solihull?s best hope of getting anything out of the game, and his lightning pace again got him one-on-one with Pettinger, but again the Celtic keeper came out on top. Celtic looked a lot more relaxed now, though. An Eastwood cross to Ellington allowed Celtic?s top scorer to half volley towards goal, Barry was again called upon to block it. Hayes proved his worth when Ellington flicked on a Garvey cross to Prince putting the winger one-on-one with Hayes. He thought about the chip as he bore down on Hayes, but opted to curl it past the advancing keeper instead, and produced a top-class block from the visiting keeper. As Solihull tired the action moved more into the Solihull third. Eastwood won a corner out of Grandison which eventually made its way back to Eastwood for the shot from the edge of the box that took a deflection for a second corner.

The pluses from the game were the victory, putting Celtic into the last sixteen, the return of Banim (though he needs more games), and the fact that Price?s suspension will end after the Cheshire Senior cup game on Tuesday night, bringing him back for the Leigh game. The negatives were that Celtic looked rusty and allowed Solihull too much of the game. When Celtic did play, the gulf was apparent, but it was too infrequent, and too short. More games will sort both Banim?s fitness levels and shake out the general cobwebs.

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