Celtic are through to the final at Burton Albion after a nerve wracking penalty shoot out. Winn's tenth of the season, and Payne's second half header gave Celtic the two goal lead they needed, but a late own goal put the Sandgrounders right back in it.
Celtic started well, and Hall or Winn could have given Celtic an early goal, but couldn't get the ball on target. Barwick too went just over the bar with an effort from distance. A through ball from Barwick sent Ellington through towards the keeper. Drench got down well to smother, but there was no way Ellington could stop, and he crashed into Drench, conceding a foul and getting a booking.
The early play was all Celtic, and when Torpey floated in a free kick, Southport didn't clear well, with Holland pressured by Hall and the ball fell to Winn just outside the box, he shaped himself well and volleyed the ball back in, a deflection from the back of Barratt taking it beyond Drench. In celebrating in the Celtic goal mouth, Gamble landed awkwardly and twisted his ankle; with initial fears that it was broken he was taken to hospital and missed the remainder of the match.
Prince tried to test Gamble's replacement early, but his distance effort was a warm up shot for Pearson, and comfortable. Right before the break, Winn got an astounding chance to put Celtic two ahead, with a ball from Meechan, but sent the shot narrowly over the bar.
Drench was substituted for the reserve keeper at half time with a suspected broken nose, that may have come with the collision from Ellington.
The second half was a more even affair with Winn again going close, and Robinson testing Pearson with a low drive from outside the box. Celtic started to gain the ascendancy as the half wore on, and a couple of crossed into the box were crying out to be tapped in, but Hall's and Meechan's legs were half an inch too short. Ellington got onto a Torpey lifted ball, scissor kicking his shot towards goal, only for Holland to get in the way and divert the ball around for a corner. Again the corner wasn't watched properly and Payne steamed in from the corner of the box to meet the ball with a thunderous header that nearly took the back of the net off.
That goal gave Celtic a great advantage, Southport HAD to score just to get to extra time. A couple of free kicks from Prince sailed narrowly, but harmlessly wide, and Torpey got a shot on target as both teams looked to get another goal. There was some scintillating football from both sides as the elusive goal was searched for.
It came to Southport, a cross into the box from Barratt fell between Sykes legs and as he tried to clear it, the ball rebounded off his standing leg and into the net. The goal energised Southport for the final few minutes and though Hall could have scored with virtually the last kick only to be robbed in the box, it was Gray and Robinson who came closest with efforts wide. There was even a decent shout for a penalty as Lever seemed to take Meechan's legs feet from the goal, but nothing was given, and extra time loomed.
A great move from Celtic in the first period nearly meant penalties wouldn't be required, as Hall and Ellington interchanged the latter going into the box, and one-on-one with Whiteside. The rolling shot beat the advancing keeper but rebounded off the foot of the post. Prince put another free kick over the bar, but only just with the travelling contingent thinking it was in, before the interval halted proceedings momentarily.
Both Torpey and Prince had efforts blocked on route to goal, Sykes the saviour for Celtic, and Lee for Southport, before Barlow, on for Ellington, put a spinning shot over the angle from the edge of the box, and Winn put the ball into the side netting. Neither side got the ball as far as the stand in keepers, and penalties it was.
The penalties were at the Celtic fans end, and those fans may have played their part, arm waving in the Southport striker's eye line. Although it was Torpey up first, with a well struck penalty, as was Barratt's from Southport. Barwick and Robinson both notched the tally up to 2-2, before Payne and Gray made it three apiece. Meechan confidently smashed his penalty into the net, and it is often said that penalty four is the nervy one ? so it proved for Blakeman, the penalty was good, but Pearson went the right way and made the save.
All that was required was for Supporters? player of the season, Ashley Winn to score his penalty and Celtic were going to Burton.
He placed it, walked away, turned and ran in to side foot it the opposite way to Whiteside and the Celtic fans were in raptures. Celtic are going to Burton to play Barrow for a chance of Conference National football next season. No matter what happens in the final, after the seasons gone since our last visit there, this season has been fantastic.
Barrow have been on a sensational run, spoilt by two things: the end of the season, that halted the seventeen match unbeaten run; and Celtic, who interrupted what would have been a twenty-one match unbeaten run, by beating them, in Barrow.
Pictures courtesy of Mike Smith