Match Report -
Scrappy goal - undeserved win
By Debbie Taylor

Stalybridge fell out of the trophy to a controversial goal from substitute DJ Campbell.

Celtic had gone to Broadhall way with the intention of containing Stevenage, and trying to grab a goal off a break. This plan was helped as Celtic kept the pace high, favouring their strategy and forcing Stevenage into a long ball game. It almost paid off from the outset.

Pickford raced upfield after a Stevenage attack was stopped, and got clattered just past the half way line. Celtic proceeded to spin the ball around the field, pushing closer and closer to the Stevenage goal, with the home side left chasing the ball. Peacock and Ayorinde had an inspired one-two move to put Ayorinde into the box, though at an acute angle. The Nigerian leathered the ball, and it was bottom corner all the way until Greygoose pushed it onto the post and out for a corner. But the linesman indicated a goal kick, and that's the decision that stood, despite the people on the funfair across the road hearing the ball hit Greygoose's glove over the loud music.

It was to be the first of many bizarre decisions affecting both teams. As the Celtic back five contained the home side's attacks, with Beesley and Futcher easily getting to high balls first, Stevenage were forced to long shots, which were not on target, the closest was a Wormull 40 yarder which sailed high and wide.

The visitors though had the better of the opening half hour, and Peacock should have done better when he jinked between Goodliffe and Wormull before letting off a shot that proved a bread and butter save for Greygoose.

But Celtic looked like they would be quite happy with a draw, and defended well, with Williamson playing a defensive midfield role that he relished, and proved adept in. His range of passing was exemplary often freeing Pickford and Parr with a measured vision that belied his years. And he was not afraid to get stuck in either!

All in all, Celtic looked purposeful, and in control.

Towards the end of the half though, Stevenage began to slow the game down to their pace, and gained a bit of dominance, winning numerous corners.

However, with the tallest defence in the League, Futcher and Beesley were on hand to deny Stevenage any easy openings. When Trott got on the end of one such corner, though, he should have done better than sending the ball over the bar. As well as the corners, Stevenage were winning free kicks in dangerous areas. A complicated looking free kick involving four players eventually was fed to Wormull, who was charged down by Williamson, his shot blocked and cleared.

Even so, Celtic had to survive some hairy moments on the goal line, with Murphy, Beesley and Williamson all making stumbled, half clearances from desperate Stevenage shots.

Possibly the most dangerous tactic up Stevenage's short sleeves, were the long throws of Stirling, which caused much confusion among the Celtic defenders, and was responsible for at least one goal line clearance.

Celtic had a handball decision waved away when Goodliffe appeared to palm the ball down into his path, before hoofing clear, but shortly after Murphy received a yellow card for a tackle suspiciously close to the box. The referee decided that the foul occurred outside the box, and the linesman saw no reason to argue. Trott's thumped free kick deflected off the wall for a corner. Murphy redeemed himself by blocking the low corner, and sending it up field for Ayorinde to chase.

Stevenage had possibly the best two chances in the opening period of the second half, with Sigere prodding a soft ball directly to Fish, and Hamsher heading from fifteen yards out without pace that Fish collected easily. After an hour had passed, it was looking like Paul Futcher's tactics were going to pay off with a replay.

However, DJ Campbell, obviously a crowd favourite, was brought on for the Frenchman Sigere, who had done little to impress other than bumble around the box.

Within minutes of coming on, Campbell changed the nature of the game in controversial fashion.

He forced a corner off Pickford (an excellent sliding challenge), and as the ball was floated in, Futcher headed clear, but only as far as McMahon 30 yards out. As Celtic moved up, Campbell still stood on the six yard box turned to come back onside. McMahon lifted the ball back over the Celtic defence, with Campbell clearly offside. Nevertheless, as he turned to meet the incoming ball, he stumbled over his own feet catching the ball on his chest, and knocking it down under Fish, as the Celtic number one desperately made a lunge for the bobbling ball. The Celtic defender looked to the linesman, but his flag stayed firmly by his side, and as Beesley complained to the referee, he earned a yellow card for his pains.

Going a goal down was not in the Celtic plan, and we had no choice but to continue in the same vein.

Again, it almost paid dividends, when Pickford shot from outside the area, sending Greygoose flying across the face of his goal, but this time, he did not need to touch it as it went narrowly wide.

Beesley tried to head a ball back to Fish at the other end, breaking up a Stevenage attack, but the header was far to soft, and Fish had to race off his line and slid in to block Jackson's sliding shot. Beesley made amends by clearing the spilled ball.

Also, Campbell was causing all kinds of problems though, and it looked as though he might snatch a more conventional goal when he shrugged off the grasping attentions of Futcher to race down one-on-one with Fish. Fish did exceptionally well, blocking at Campbell's feet, but Futcher came out worse, getting his yellow card at the first break in play.

Celtic brought on Courtney and Turley in an effort to grab some kind of equaliser, but this left them more exposed at the back, as they pushed people forward.

When a long Wormull clearance was brought under control by Campbell, he waited just long enough to draw Futcher before sliding it through to Stirling, who was making an excellent run through the middle of the park. Again Fish was on hand to deny the midfielder, with another great blocking save.

Wormull received a clearance, and raced down the field, with only Beesley and Williamson between him and Fish. Williamson looked to have slid in well to take the ball, but the ref adjudged him to have taken too much of the player with his two footed scything challenge, and booked him, but it did stop Wormull in his tracks, and indeed, he had to be replaced.

As time began to run out for the Celts Courtney got his chance to be a hero, fed by Ayorinde, he turned inside the box, but his shot lacked enough power, despite being accurate, and Greygoose was able to gather at the foot of the post.

A draw would have been justice, and Williamson almost capped an outstanding game with seconds on the clock, when he sped onto a loose ball outside the Stevenage area, but his shot was deflected agonisingly wide. Stevenage fans would have been in uproar had it gone in, after his tackle on Wormull, which had had them baying for red.

All in all, this was an outstandingly tactical performance by Celtic, with some excellent performances, especially from Fish, who could not be blamed for the goal, and from Williamson in the middle of the park. Though Celtic are out of the Trophy, the performance was positive enough that we might just yet survive in the Conference.