Match Report -
Celtic Fall Short In Nuneaton
By Peter Ray
Despite taking the lead somewhat against the run of play, another penalty conceded and a second-half header by Collins sent Celtic to defeat on a large, green pitch at Liberty Way. Travis was the main thorn in Celtic's side with a series of powerful runs from right-back, which brought trouble for Smart and both home goals. The steady Payne was missed in the Celtic defence and his replacement, the brusque Stringfellow, knocked Collins to the ground just before half-time to hand Nuneaton their penalty. Sadly, Roca's inclusion failed to enliven Celtic and he was inevitably withdrawn after the break, substitute Barwick strengthening midfield a good deal in a scrappier second-half. Both pairs of strikers caused problems for their marking defenders and maybe Nuneaton's midfielders were more effective on the day, for Burbeary and Barlow, despite their effort, weren't able to create the openings they had against Leigh RMI.

Burbeary's day began oddly when he punched the bouncing ball but Hall was prominent in the early exchanges, taking a pass from Roca and firing low at home ?keeper Acton. Gamble caught a free-kick confidently but Nuneaton began to move the ball around fairly neatly after Hall's cross had found Ellington, who had set up Roca but Acton smothered the angled effort. Pritchard was showing some smart ability for Nuneaton and he combined with Towers for a cross, from which Ricketts won a corner. Haran conceded a second corner under pressure from Ricketts then Gamble was forced to clutch a header by Ricketts following a right-wing throw.

At this point, an elderly Nuneaton supporter, wearing a blue jacket berated the manager for not showing any encouragement from the touchline! This was quite bizarre because the manager looked totally amazed at the chap, before spitting out a mouthful of bottled water. Smart reply...

A fine, diving header by Moore from Towers? right-wing near post corner skimmed Gamble's crossbar but just after Barlow's poor centre was collected by Acton, Celtic broke to score on 20 minutes. Hall's good play on the right had led to a couple of blocks by Nuneaton and Sykes had found himself on the right-wing; the midfielder's centre was good, Acton's positioning was suspect and Hall rose at the far post to send a looping header into the empty goal.

Brown was timing his runs fairly well for Nuneaton and Haran, who had taken a knock and Dudgeon were struggling to cope with the pace at times. Gamble was pushed as he gathered another dangerous Towers corner and Ellington's ?goal? was disallowed for offside but Nuneaton were driving forward and Celtic's midfielders were often a little slow to retreat and support the overworked defenders. Yet Celtic were close to adding to the slender lead when Acton made a hash of Ellington's centre and Barlow's header was scrambled past a post by skipper Curtis. Stringfellow was battling manfully and one of his clearances saw Ellington head on for Hall but the resulting drive flew into the side-netting.

Brown miskicked badly, 15 yards out as the Celtic defence was in disarray, Stringfellow headed a dangerous ball to the defensive left-flank but Celtic survived Towers? cross, which was too strong. Dudgeon blocked the lively Pritchard well but when Curtis was cautioned and Celtic's quick free-kick was blocked by a player one yard away, the official was pleased to let play continue! Travis? running was becoming more dangerous as the half wore on and when he fed Towers, Haran only just managed to deny Ricketts. Another overlap by Travis in the 40th minute, onto Curtis? neat pass, led to Stringfellow's physical challenge on Collins, which won the home team a penalty. Curtis placed his spot-kick to Gamble's left and Nuneaton had deservedly equalised.

The visitors were put under more pressure and a fortunate pass by Ricketts led to Gamble saving a low drive from Pritchard then Haran was struck in the face by Curtis? 22 yard shot, following Towers? right-wing cross. Travis drove well wide and Gamble tipped another Towers centre over his crossbar before Ricketts headed down for Pritchard, whose poor effort drifted well off target.

Celtic were struggling to contain the right-side attacking of the home team and with Sykes involved only spasmodically, Nuneaton's hard-working midfielders were dominating, although Moore and Burgess were not finding Hall and Ellington too easy to contain.

As the second-half began, Ellington laid the ball back for Burbeary's neat clipped ball, which was headed downwards by Hall and Acton was forced to slither across goal as the effort skidded past his left post. Celtic were forcing the pace and Ellington's head-on was dribbled past his own ?keeper to safety by the desperate Moore. Following Curtis? quick free-kick however, Brown's near post shot struck the strained Dudgeon and from the resulting corner, Ricketts and Brown managed headers which deflected off a defender for Gamble to gather. Winn and Barwick replaced the struggling Roca and suffering Haran, Sykes dropping back in a defensive role. The game became rather more untidy at this point and although Celtic did manage a good deal of possession, the creative element was too often missing.

Acton saved an Ellington effort after set-up play by the livelier Burbeary and the physical Hall then after Towers was denied by a linesman's flag, Stringfellow volleyed too high from 35 yards. On 68 minutes, Nuneaton scored the winning goal but there was certainly some doubt about its legality. Smart was pushed over the touchline in a defensive position, his appeals were ignored and from the throw-in, Travis? right-wing centre was headed into the net at the far post by the diminutive Collins. Nuneaton had certainly been fortunate to avoid a free-kick against them. Immediately, Hall squandered an equalising opportunity. Smart's fine left-wing centre landed on Hall's foot with only the flailing Acton to beat but the striker fluffed his shot from close range. Poor efforts by Barwick and Smart were well off-target, Acton fumbled Burbeary's cross and Sykes headed too high. The game was now urgent for Celtic with Nuneaton failing to press home their advantage. Burbeary's free-kick was blocked and Barwick again fired off-target before Collins and Brown were withdrawn by Nuneaton. Replacement Muggleton squandered an opportunity by firing straight at Gamble then Franklin also had a low effort saved before a fine 25 yard drive from Barwick was tipped over the crossbar by a relieved Acton, as the game expired.

Little had been seen of Nuneaton after the winning goal but they held firm and had those two late shots to extend the lead, which failed. Celtic huffed and puffed but the spark was missing from Barlow and Ellington and although Nuneaton certainly had more of the play overall, Hall then Barwick nearly won a point for the disappointing visitors.