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Match Report -
By Debbie Taylor

Stalybridge Celtic confirmed promotion against a lowly Droylsden side that forced Celtic to make heavy weather of the three points.

At times, it looked as though Celtic would be unable to come away from this tie with anything other than one point.

Whilst Droylsden never converted any of their potential threats into actual ones, Celtic were struggling to get going. The heavy fixture list of the previous fortnight, coupled with the highly charged game against Emley left the players looking tired.

The Butcher's Arms ground was packed with Celtic fans; approximately 4000 people watched Celtic return to the Conference, the vast majority Celtic fans. So many people had come that Manchester New Road was a car-park all the way from B & Q, and the queue for the ground stretched back to Droylsden Precinct!

The game started well, with Pickford stealing the ball from the kick off and sending Parr through the heart of the Droylsden defence. Parr pushed the final ball into the path of Jones who struck it first time to bring an excellent save from Phillips in the Droylsden goals. If Celtic had got an early goal, the players would have gone on a goal spree - but Phillips saved Droylsden's blushes.

The players looked tired, but determined not to give in to Droylsden pressure, barely letting the Bloods out of their own half, but content to let them play the ball around without challenging heavily. Celtic's best hope for a goal looked likely from a set piece. They duly received their first corner when ex-Celt Johnston conceded a corner off Sullivan's pressure. Crookes received the ball, and cut inside before unleashing a ferocious shot. Phillips fumbled, and as Jones came steaming in for the header, Phillips recovered, and sprang forward to collect the ball off Jones' head.

Moments later, Sullivan was held back by Johnston, allowing Bauress to float in a free kick. Filson, back pedalling could only head wide.

Droylsden's best chance of the half came when they got a trio of corners.

Locke granted them the first, then Bauress cut it out for a second, before Johnston headed over.

As the play began to get bogged down, Sullivan remained Celtic's best outlet, and he curled a ball in from the wing. Bauress, perhaps unaccustomed to the position headed weakly, gifting Phillips an easy catch.

From the other side, Scott fed Bauress, who chose to volley it this time, but Nolan took all the pace out of the ball with a deflection, and again Phillips had an easy catch.

As the half hour mark passed, Droylsden gathered themselves together for a brief spell, and looked like they might create something, but their final ball was poor. Cunningham attempted a shot from distance, which Ingham duly stooped to collect, and Cunningham again was involved when Filson blocked his progress, allowing Briers to lob a ball into the box, but Filson made amends by clearing it up field. Latty came in from the wing, to the edge of the box, but as the irrepressible defence closed him down, he shot wildly, clearing the bar, the crowd, and the houses behind the ground. Droylsden managed to get four corners out of the Celtic defence, but were unable to deliver a dangerous ball.

Eventually, Droylsden ran out of ideas, and settled back to play for a draw.

But they had to rely on Phillips yet again, as Sullivan beat the offside trap to latch onto a Pickford ball. Phillips was off his line rapidly, and reached the through ball seconds ahead of the Celtic striker to clear into the stand.

Celtic started the second half brightly again. Sullivan whipped a ball in, but Pickford went narrowly wide. With a corner the result, Parr got a great header onto the Bauress ball, only to see Phillips claw it onto the bar. The ball fell to Crookes, whose deflected shot clipped the wrong side of the post. Parr again got his head to the ball, but failed to make as good contact, and steered the ball out for a goal kick. Pickford reached the kick first, and put Sullivan through. Phillips was again quickly off his line, but his clearance was sliced, allowing Jones to get his head to the ball, but he could not get enough power, and Phillips had time to get back to claim.

Jones battled his way past Johnston, who reacted badly, tripping the number 10. Johnston received a yellow for the challenge. The free kick was met by Parr, who headed into the bottom corner, and brought the best out of Phillips as the Bloods' number one got down to the far bottom corner to smother the ball.

In a rare foray, Green made the most of a Ward error, to steal into the near post, and unleash a tightly angled shot. Ingham kept his sheet clean by pulling off a superb save. Ingham was called into action again moments later when Wardle came in from the other angle to test the Unibond's best keeper. Ingham came out on top.

Parr again went close, when Jones fed Crookes to cross in, but the Celtic midfielder again saw the ball pass by the wrong side of the post. Sullivan continued to pose problems, and looked the most energetic of the Celtic front two. He pulled the ball back from the by line after running rings around Johnston and Nolan. Jones was steaming in, but the legs of Phillips put it out for a corner, which Filson put over the bar.

Jones was obviously feeling the strain of the heavy season, and was replaced on the hour by Cooke. The crowd hoped for another wonder goal from the ex-Vics player.

His first touch fed Ward, who crossed first time into Parr, who headed past a different post this time.

A goal threatened as Celtic pushed men forward with quarter of an hour to go. Locke threw the ball into the box, where Holmes cleared back to him, Locke put it straight back in, but saw the ball go over.

Pickford was brought down by Cunningham, and received a short free kick from Bauress, but blazed over. The Droylsden net was beginning to look charmed.

This looked even more so, as Sullivan used his head for the first time in the season, to nod over the cross bar a Locke throw. Sullivan again was denied by a superb tackle in the six yard box by Johnston after Sullivan had beaten the rest of the defence. With shouts of encouragement from the bench, Sullivan did not let his head go down, and again got in a scoring chance, but saw Phillips pull off another wonder save to deny him.

As full time passed, and stoppage time began, some in the crowd began to disperse. But they missed the grand finale. Sullivan squared the ball to Cooke, who's blasted shot produced another great save from Phillips earning Celtic a corner.

Bauress whipped in the ball, which Parr knocked goal-bound from the edge of the box. Standing on the six yard line was Green. He got between the ball and the net, but only by using his hands. The referee had no hesitation, and pointed to the penalty spot sending the remaining crowd wild. While Locke placed the ball, Green received his yellow card.

Locke took two steps and blasted into the bottom corner, beating the keeper for pace. For a change, there was nothing that Phillips could do.

Droylsden looked frazzled by the goal, and spent the remaining three minutes of the game tackling heavily and protesting to the referee. Though they pushed forward for an equaliser, they got no change from the Celtic back four.

The referee finally consented to blow the whistle some twelve minutes after full time prompting the second pitch invasion in as many matches as the Players were surrounded by a jubilant crowd. Sullivan climbed onto a wall and addressed his adoring public as the rest of the players were swallowed in a sea of bodies. The Droylsden officials looked on, realising there was nothing they could do, and why bother, Celtic have deserved the adoration.

The game may not have been great but the season has.

Celtic will go into the Conference on the back of one of the highest points, lowest goals against, highest goals for, and one of the best goal differences for many a year. They'll be partying in the streets of Stalybridge on Saturday!

Emley were going to have to stick it out in the Unibond Northern Premier League for another year.

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