Celtic came into the game with a two goal cushion from the first leg that they won 4-2. This meant that Ashton were going to have to attack the game to get a goal back. However, Celtic knew that if they could get an early goal, the tie would be over as a competition. And this is what they tried to accomplish.
Almost immediately, Potts was cutting inside Carty to gain a glimpse of goal, before being unceremoniously dumped off the ball by the larger man. Potts took the free kick himself, but though Mayers reached the floated cross ahead of the huge central pairing of Royle and White, his header flashed over the bar.
So eager were Celtic for the early goal, that Parr and Eastwood went for the same loose ball in the box. Eastwood gave ground and allowed Parr a shot on goal. Royle’s bulk proved a formidable barrier, a deflection off him taking all the sting out of the shot, and allowing Trueman a comfortable catch.
German, acting as a left back due to the stomach bug contracted by Caldicott earlier in the day, was laid off with a lovely weighted ball from Eastwood, and had a curling shot that Trueman could only parry. However, he managed to recover before Potts or Mayers could stab the ball into the back of the net.
Mayers then managed to put another ball over the bar; he interchanged with Potts to get into the box, but was leaning back when he took aim, and the ball sailed inches over the crossbar.
Eastwood was acting as the provider in the opening exchanges, mainly due to the close attention he was receiving from the Ashton defence. However, they could do nothing when he drew them both to the edge of the box and spread the ball to the wing where Potts sidestepped Carty’s clumsy challenge and floated a great cross to the back post. Mayers was waiting, but heard Wharton’s shout from behind him, leaving it for the young midfielder. Wharton’s side-footed shot had plenty of power, but was narrowly off target.
Again, unable to get past Royle, Eastwood used him to win a corner. Potts sent the ball out to Bowman, who curled a ball across the face of the goal. Eastwood couldn’t reach it, but Mayers managed to turn it goal ward, but not by enough, sending it wide.
Ashton rode the pressure in the opening quarter of an hour, and began to stamp their own style of play onto the proceedings.
Morris levered Pearce off the ball, releasing Miller. The Robins’ striker tried his luck from distance, and though Dootson scrambled across, he was never truly worried.
The Ashton nippy winger, Smith won a corner off Bowker, when the Celtic man blocked his cross. Bowman reached the corner first, but Royle flattened him. German was across quickly to cover, and Bowman stretched from his prone position to grant Ashton a second corner that was curled across the face and out for a goal kick.
Dootson got his first touch of the ball mid way through the first half when Smith had nowhere to cross, so tried a long range shot that was decently struck, but straight at the Celtic number one. Denney then provided Celtic with a bit of defensive cover when German hoofed clear Smith’s cross, but only as far as Dormer, who struck the half volley well, almost knocking his team mate over as the ball deflected wide.
But Ashton were getting closer. Morris turned Bowker just outside the box, and struck the ball low and hard into the side netting. The Ashton pressure was beginning to tell as the possession fell to the home side from every clearance and Celtic were beginning to struggle to contain them. Even the decisions were beginning to go their way. Wharton was clattered by Calvert in the centre circle, and Calvert got the free kick! Dormer spread the ball to Denney who out-paced Bowker to get enough space for a shot, but the effort was woeful and wide. Calvert then won a second free kick in a similar area, this time when Parr slid in, wrapped a foot around the ball and emerged with it. This time, it was put into the racing path of Riordan, whose shot come cross was over the bar.
Smith was being Ashton’s most inventive player by far. He looped a ball over the top of the defence to Calvert who slid the ball back to him. A first time shot from thirty yards had to be palmed around the post by Dootson with a flying save of high quality. The corner was whipped across the face falling to Calvert, who put it back across the face to Dormer. Dormer put it into the mixer once more, and Dootson claimed but Miller shoved him over. Celtic were beginning to ride their luck a little, looking like they wanted to get to half time at 0-0. Celtic again had to rely on poor finishing when German felled Smith near the corner flag, and the free kick was to the near post where Morris stabbed it well wide from close range.
Smith used his formidable pace to get beyond Bowman, but with Bowker coming too him fast, he had only a few steps before he could unleash a shot, however, he did and it took a superb acrobatic save from Dootson to tip the ball around the post. Once again, poor finishing let Ashton down, Denney had a free header, but put the ball over the bar.
Smith again outpaced the Celtic defence, leaving both Bowker and Pearce behind him. One-on-one with Dootson, the Celtic keeper came off his line quickly and Smith tried to slot it past him, but the ball went across the face of the six yard box and never looked like going in.
As the half drew to a close, Eastwood saw space opening up before him and ran into it. Dormer had no chance of catching him before he reached the box and cynically scythed Eastwood down on route to goal. It should have been a yellow card, but was merely a free kick that Potts put wide.
But it was a rare moment in Ashton’s dominance of the half. Smith rode the challenge of Pearce and slid the ball into the path of Denney, but the Robin’s shot was straight at Dootson.
Celtic looked quite relieved when the half-time whistle came.
However, Ashton came out in the vein that they went in, and Parr had to track Denney all the way to the by-line before conceding a corner. Celtic managed to clear that, but it wasn’t long before Ashton were attacking down the right flank, with Riordan squaring a ball into the box for Miller running in. Dootson got down well to palm the ball away, but not far enough, and Miller was able to hook his foot around the ball and drag it into the net.
The goal cushion had been reduced to just one goal, and there was most of a half left to play!
Celtic needed that wake up call to play the football that they are capable of. Mayers got the ball up field by shielding it. However, Carty got fed up and clattered him some thirty yards from goal. Potts’ free kick was unconvincingly punched away by Trueman, and fortunately cleared by his defence.
However, Celtic restored their cushion when Potts found Wharton amid a tangle of players. Calvert tried to hack him down, but Wharton stayed on his feet, dazzled Royle with his fancy footwork that Potts would have been pleased with before emerging into the six yard box to stab the ball past Trueman.
Once more Ashton had a lot of work to do, and time was running out. Smith was tackled by Bowman as he tried to get to the by-line for a cross. The corner flashed across the face to Miller, but his shot was palmed off the line by Dootson and cleared by Bowman. In order to win a corner, Dormer shepherded the ball out and Bowker could just not get around him, however Parr made a powerful headed clearance.
As Ashton went looking for a way back into the game, the possession started to see-saw more, and the game started to look more even. Wharton dodged Dormer’s excessively clumsy challenge and put a great ball into the box for Mayers, but Royle (who makes Mayers look small) got there first to head clear.
The Ashton fullbacks were spending most of their time attacking the Celtic goal supported by Captain Morris who was also getting further and further up field. Riordan found his captain with a defence splitting ball, and it took another excellent save from Dootson to keep the Ashton deficit at two goals. Bowker headed the corner behind for a second corner that Dootson punched out of the danger area, and Hooper hoofed clear.
Eastwood spread the ball out to Potts who zipped up the touchline and cut a reverse pass after leaping over Carty’s career threatening lunge. Mayers and Royle both went for the ball in the box, and the defender came out on top – just!
As the play switched from end to end, Miller went racing towards goal, German slid in narrowly missing the ball, but getting Miller’s legs forty yards from goal and earning the games only yellow card. Celtic packed the defence, and Dootson punched the free kick out only as far as Denney. Denney struck the ball from outside the area, and it took two or three deflections the last coming off Bowker for a corner. Mayers was back in his original Celtic role of centreback, and did a thoroughly good job of heading the ball clear.
But the gaps were getting bigger at the back, and Colin Potts was the man to exploit such freedom. Mayers released him, and he jinked past Carty’s lumbering effort of a tackle before going one-on-one with Trueman. Trueman made himself big and stayed on his feet, Potts tried to slide the ball past him, and narrowly went wide. Potts got closer still moments later when Denham (on for Eastwood) latched onto a lax clearance from Riordan to slide the ball into Potts’ path, only a superb save from Trueman kept the deficit at two goals.
Hallows was then brought on as well, creating a pairing up front not seen this season. It looked designed to exploit to the full the wide open spaces at the back of the Ashton team. And Hallows did. He found Potts completely unmarked with an excellent ball; Potts lifted the ball over the top to Denham who raced into the box. Trueman advanced on Denham and the young striker lifted the ball over his head where Hallows simply nodded it home with a stooping header. Suddenly, Ashton had a huge mountain to climb.
They did try. Rowe raced through the defence, but Bowker stood firm blocking the cross at the expense of a corner. Hooper lifted it clear as far as Riordan. The fullback acting as an out and out winger put the ball back into the danger area, and Pearce headed it out for a second corner. Wharton burst out of the box with the ball and ran the full length of the field. Though he had Denham, Potts and Hallows up with him, he felt he deserved to have a shot himself; however, perhaps he should have passed the ball, for his shot was awful!
Miller had a chance to narrow the gap when Pearce headed a loose ball out for a corner when under no pressure, and Dormer’s ball found him unmarked, but he was leaning back, and headed over the bar.
Potts got his third great chance when Denham’s cross-field ball found him in acres of space. Potts knocked the ball into the box and struck the sweetest of shots that Trueman saved in spectacular style, stopping the scoreline from running away in Celtic’s favour.
In the final throws of the dice, Ashton were still clawing away, and when Challender took advantage of Bowker missing Rowe’s cross, it needed Pearce throwing himself in the path of the ball’s flight to divert it for a corner. Parr headed the ball clear but it fell at the feet of Denney. However, it didn’t matter; the referee had seen enough and blew the final whistle of what had been an entertaining second half.
The first half of the game saw Celtic start brightly, but fade after fifteen minutes, riding luck and a lot of Ashton pressure. Two crucial saves from Dootson kept the scoreline empty at half time, but an early second half goal from Ashton opened the whole game wide open. At times Celtic were chasing the game, unable to get to grips with the physical highball Ashton game, however that goal had woken them up and as Ashton chased the game, Celtic got the chance to punish them, and they did.
Because last season Celtic were in the Conference, they could not compete as holders of the President cup, a trophy last won in the Championship winning season of 2001. This meant that in a way, Celtic were defending champions, and this they proved with some memorable results on the way to this final. They’d had to beat Workington, who beat them in the FA Cup, they had to beat Runcorn, who’d beaten them twice in the league, but they managed it.
In the words of Kevin Parr as he lifted the Trophy for the first time as Captain of Celtic: “Get in there!”