This was a must win game for Celtic, as indeed they all are this season, but this one especially so. In the local paper, the Droylsden manager had declared Celtic "just another mediocre Unibond team". On top of this, Celtic needed to bounce back from the exit from the FA Trophy, a competition which Celtic were the last Unibond team in, Mr Pace.
The heavy toll of the previous two games and the 10 hour coach journey took it's toll, and it looked as though Dave Pace's predictions were correct, as Celtic played without cohesion or a cutting edge, this despite the welcome return of tricky winger Colin Potts.
Droylsden have their own tricky number 11, in Daniel Byrne. This one-man football team is probably the main factor in Droylsden's turn around season. It was he that got the proceedings under way when he brought down a long crossfield ball with a touch that gave him sprinting room past Keeling, he dragged his shot wide, but it was an opening salvo and reminiscent of the opening attack at Canvey.
Keeling clashed with Kilheeny, and the free kick was floated into the box for Lattie. Dootson came and punched, but in the crowd he didn't get any distance, just an elbow in the head. The ball fell to Byrne who sliced his shot, but the referee halted play for the head injury.
Celtic slowly got into the game, through Denham. German was crudely bundled over by Byrne, but the referee played advantage when Denham latched onto the lose ball at the half way line. He powered down the wing, with the Blood's defence trying to track back. As they got too close, Denham switched the play to Potts. Potts' cut inside Farley and laid the ball off to Wharton. Wharton couldn't get it under control, and stabbed it back to Potts, who had an instant curling shot over the top of the bar. Clegg soon won the ball back, and fed it to the feet of Denham. Denham raced past Warner and fired a low cross for Mayers. A good low shot was blocked by Lattie and cleared.
It looked a little like Potts was trying to regain his feet in this Celtic side but some of the trademarks were still; there. A long sweeping cross was right into the stride of Denham, one touch took the striker past Warner and Lattie and allowed him a strike on goal, but it was over the bar. Potts' tricky feet gave him enough space to lay off Clegg. Clegg's first time strike was low and hard and wide.
Droylsden were probably the dominant force in the first half as Celtic struggled to shake off their mid-week exploits, but the Celtic defence were generally holding them at arms length. Morris tried for a screamer from distance, but had no accuracy. Murphy too, thought that he would have a go when he latched onto a half clearance from Pearce, firing it back whence it had come, but over the bar. Byrne whipped in a great cross (after fouling German) for Morris steaming in at the back post, but he volleyed over. Byrne then whipped in another ball that Fitzgerald reacted to ahead of Kilheeny to knock past his own post for a corner. Parr comfortably cleared the corner.
Denham's persistence and pace got him behind Warner and allowed him to slide to keep in an impossible ball. Before Warner could react Denham spread the ball across the box. It was just behind Potts who let it run to Wharton, but his shot was wild and over. Smith replaced German, as he continued to struggle with the injury sustained from Byrne's earlier tackle. That's the second Celtic full back that Byrne's injured, in the reverse fixture he injured Todd.
Byrne took advantage of the momentary adjustment required in the defence. A long punt down field was well turned past Keeling by Byrne. With Pearce and Smith coming into close him down, he snapped off a shot across the face of Dootson and into the far corner.
Murphy clumsily fouled Potts just outside the box, which Fitzgerald fed low to the near post for Mayers. Murphy was there again to cut out the free kick at the expense of a corner. O'Brien encroached into the ten yard limit and put the ball out for a second corner, which Celtic wasted.
As the half entered its final phases, it was palpable that Celtic were forcing themselves into strong contenders in this game. A confident throw from Dootson to the half way line where Denham waited would have allowed Denham space to run at the as yet untested Phillips. Farley had other ideas, and fouled Denham before the ball reached them. Droylsden were then able to defend the free kick, and punt the ball back down field. Mayers tried to win the ball a few times in the centre of the park, but was forced back with each attempted clearance until Morris got into range and fired a shot over the bar.
Clegg and Potts appear to have formed an instant understanding, without appearing to look, Clegg found Potts with a disguised pass, Potts turned and shot with some venom, as Lattie will testify to, once his voice comes back down a few octaves, the ball fell to Denham, but he sliced his attempt. Fortunately for Lattie that was half time and he could go and get some ice.
Celtic came out of the dressing room fired up. Whatever had said in there had been the right thing to say. Rumours circulated that there was a banner waiting for them with Dave Pace's words on it. Parr, appearing in his 250th Celtic game, got on the end of a long throw, but couldn't wrap his head around it enough, so the power was weak. Shortly after, Mayers was bundled over by Burke, and Potts floated in the free kick. Mayers flicked it for Denham, who had ever right to go for the ball, not that Phillips though the same when he caught the ball and Denham's foot in his midriff. The visitors swarmed around Denham, and Parr and Morris earned themselves yellow cards for seemingly pulling the two sides apart, and Denham got one for the high foot.
Denham just got on with the job in hand and would have supplied a great cross for Potts, had Morris not plainly handballed just inside the box. Droylsden got away with that, as they got away with a Droylsden clearance striking Parr and falling back to Denham, who fired a shot past Phillips, only to be called offside. Incensed that his goal wouldn't count, Denham had to go on and get the real thing. Celtic played the ball around the Droylsden box, almost toying with the home defence, but not shooting. Eventually it was half cleared to Pearce who lobbed the ball over the retreating defence, leaving Denham onside and with only Phillips to beat. Denham lifted the ball over the diving Phillips into the back of the net to equalise.
Celtic then went rampant, and Droylsden seemed powerless to stop them.
Mayers held off three players before lifting the ball to Denham. There was a lot to do, so Denham tried to lob the ball over the defence and keeper, but also cleared the bar.
Phillips was left in a bit of a pickle when Denham closed down Burke who passed the ball to him, before the startled keeper could react, Denham was on him, and Phillips sliced clearance almost went for a corner. Caldicott put a perfectly weighted ball through for Denham to latch onto. Again the defence were slow to react and Phillips went down far too quickly as Denham skipped past him, slotting the ball into the corner of the net.
Droylsden tried the instant come back, with Murphy blasting goal bound from distance. Dootson saw it late, but made a great dive punching the ball around the post for a corner. Celtic cleared comfortably.
As Celtic pressed further up field, Pearce was able to loft the ball over the defence for Denham to race onto again. Which he did. Phillips came racing from his area; it was 50-50, with Phillips winning out on height alone.
With time running out for the visitors, they got increasingly desperate. Byrne was still mercurial, and covering most of the field, but to be frank, the rest of the team seemed to be running out of ideas. Byrne tried to unlock the Celtic defence with an excellent pass that went straight into O'Brien's stride. The Bloods' midfielder struck a powerful shot through a crowd, Dootson parried and Pearce cleared, setting Denham off on a run towards a virtually empty Droylsden half, until Lattie cynically hacked Denham down, and as the last defender, probably expected to walk, but stayed with a yellow card, probably due to the distance Denham still had to go.
Wharton and Mayers performed a lovely one-two to put Wharton into the box. Unable to get it fully under control he played it back to Mayers, and the chance was gone, until substitute Hall conceded a corner under pressure from Heald. The corner must have gone out before coming in, because it was a straight goal kick. Celtic were soon bringing it back at Droylsden as the visitors struggled to contain Celtic. Lattie again knocked down Denham in the centre of the park. From the free kick floated in by Keeling, Denham snapped off a shot when perhaps Mayers or Potts were better options, but thoughts of a hat-trick filled his mind, and he forced a corner out of a tip over from Phillips.
The corner was cleared, but Denham was soon bringing it back, terrorising the Bloods' back four. He found Heald in acres of space; Heald took a couple of touches to get the ball under control, by which time defenders were flocking to him. Heald snapped off the shot, but went wide.
As the seconds ran out, Celtic defended by attacking. Phillips had to be brave as Wharton raced into the box with the ball Phillips smothered the ball at Wharton's feet. The punt up field was the last action of the game, and Celtic had stuffed not only their local rivals, but also their managers' words back in his face.
To have title hopes, you have to beat these mediocre Unibond sides.
Celtic have given their own Conference North hopes a great shot in the arm with the victory, which still leaves us at 10, but closing the gap on the top 8.