Previously, Celtic have been unlucky to get a draw when a victory seemed the inevitable outcome of their play. Against Runcorn, it was a different story. Except for the frame of the goal, and some superb keeping from Dootson, Celtic would have lost against their bogey team.
Celtic showed some promise in the first half, when their football ability was not countered by Runcorn's hoof technique. Wharton started the evening off with a fast cross for Sykes, but Sykes volleyed over under pressure from the big and strong Runcorn defence. Celtic's incisive passing allowed Eastwood to put Hayward through clear, but the Celtic striker stumbled and had to be content with knocking the ball back to Sykes. The defence closed him quickly, and the ball cleared for a throw. A quick throw was whipped into the box by Smith, but Sykes headed over the bar.
Runcorn slowly got into the game, as their forwards started to pick up on the midfield-bypassing clearances. Durkan latched onto one such clearance and got beyond Smith and put a fast paced ball across the face. Dootson was on high alert all game, and snatched it out of the air ahead of Kissock. Kissock then latched onto another up and over ball, winning a corner off a back-pedalling Keeling. Spearitt headed the corner wide.
Smith was more deadly going forward, he overlapped Hayward and immediately on receiving the ball slipped the ball into the box for Wharton running in, from the stands it looked at first like the diminutive midfielder had added to his season tally with another goal, but it was the side netting that bulged.
Hayward was fouled by Robertson thirty yards from goal. Eastwood took the free kick short to Whealing; the shot was sweet but hit the wall.
Durkan went down one wing, and put a ball in for Kissock that he put wide, and then Lally went down the other wing, this time Keeling got there ahead of Kissock, putting the ball out for a corner. Sykes could only half clear the corner, and Durkan put the ball back in for Kissock to get one on target nodding the ball past Dootson from close range.
Celtic lost the ball straight off the restart, and Durkan's ball in was headed for a corner by German. Parr's half clearance went back to Durkan. Durkan's ball back in was met by the head of Spearitt from a similar position to Kissock's goal, but Spearitt's header struck the bar and went out for a goal kick.
Eastwood put a reverse ball into the path of Hayward. McMillan in the home nets went down and pushed the ball wide ahead of Hayward; Eastwood had continued his run, but could only win a throw. However, Smith's throw was given back to him by Sykes, he lobbed the ball into the box and Eastwood was there, nodding past the largely untested McMillan.
Runcorn finished the half conceding and defending well, a couple of free kicks, however for arguing with the referee they also picked up a couple of needless yellow cards.
The teams came out and Runcorn won Celtic's restart before the ball left the centre circle ? this gave an indication of the balance of power in the second half. A German back pass was poorly weighted and Young latched onto it, ran diagonally in at Dootson, and put a low shot across the face that Dootson pushed around the post for a corner. The corner was half cleared as far as Garrity, his shot from distance was thunderous, and the post is probably still reverberating.
Robertson fouled Monk just outside the box, Whealing knocked it sideways to Wharton, the low shot through a crowd was hopeful at best, and struck at least one set of legs before being cleared. Wharton was next to be fouled just outside by Carragher, this time Eastwood tried a curler; it struck the wall and went for a corner. The corner was short to Whealing. His ball in was acrobatically tipped over the crossbar by McMillan, and given as a goal-kick.
The fouls moved down the other end, with Keeling knocking over Kissock thirty yards out. The free kick from Spearitt was strange, lofted over the wall and into Dootson's hands. Dootson had more to do moments later when Kissock easily outpaced the Celtic defence to go one-on-one with Dootson. Instead of shooting, Kissock pulled the ball square to Durkan, but Dootson adjusted his feet well and blocked Durkan's shot.
Smith was put into a great position by the vision of Hayward, who had sucked three defenders to him before seeing Smith's run. Smith should have struck the ball first time, but he took a touch and saw the defenders coming to him, forcing him to snatch at his shot and put it over the bar.
At the other end, Smith's misjudgement almost cost Celtic any points when his head back to Dootson was read by Kissock who latched onto it forcing Dootson into another great block. Dootson's next task was to palm away Durkan's ball in away from Kissock, but it fell to Lally just outside the box, his shot was fortunately over the bar.
Eastwood's vision then unlocked Sykes who can strike the ball sweetly from distance, this he did, but the ball took a deflection, putting it into the keeper's midriff.
Monk finally got the better of his marker and slid a ball across the six yard box, Hayward ran onto it from outside the box, shadowed by two defenders, he stuck a leg between them and diverted the ball into the back of the net past the stranded McMillan. Before his celebrations could get going, the linesman's flag was raised; somehow, he?d been offside when he was always behind the ball and never ahead of any defenders! Hayward's luck has to change soon - he's getting in all of the right places and doing all of the right things, but it's not going his way at the moment.
Sykes was fouled by Robertson in Whealing territory ? his curling free kick was well taken, but the keeper saw it well, and smothered it at his post. Celtic were enjoying a brief spell of pressure in the second half, and Hayward exploited it putting Wharton through one-on-one with McMillan. The home keeper reacted well and pushed the shot out for a corner. Lally headed past his own post, but it was given as a goal kick. McGynn fouled Eastwood in the final third. Whealing lofted the ball to the back post, where Parr put his header over the bar.
Rendell almost proved his manager right over bringing him on as Celtic's brief purple patch ended. Garrity's ball into the box was half cleared as far as Rendell, his shot was superbly struck and required an outstanding save from Dootson to deny him and Runcorn all three points.
Celtic's substitute was a debut for Connell, and he immediately joined the over-the-bar club. Whealing won a corner when his cross was deflected out for a corner; Wharton's ball in eventually fell to Connell thirty-yards out. The thunderous shot just cleared the bar.
Runcorn got a bit of luck when Rendell worked some space amid the press of blue shirts and sliced a shot across the face of goal, nobody touched it, but a corner was the result and that was the end of the home-side's luck and the start of Celtic's. Rendell got a powerful header onto the corner, but Robertson was at the back post, and the ball struck him on the head, diverting it into the waiting hands of Dootson. Parle, another Runcorn sub, latched onto a long throw, quickly volleying it goal-ward, but though he?d got the ball past Dootson, the post denied him.
As the game went towards the final whistle, Runcorn were looking for the winner. Rendell seemed to be at the heart of everything. Parr fouled Garrity on the half way line, and the ball was pumped into the box and Celtic couldn't clear it, finally Rendell headed over from close range.
Celtic did get a slight chance towards the end, with Connell powering down the flank and whipping a looping ball into the box, Hayward stuck out a leg, but diverted the ball over the bar.
It would have been against the run of play had Hayward scored then, though. Monk fouled Kissock on the halfway line, and the ball into the Celtic box caused great confusion for the Celtic defence, before Dootson pounced on the ball, injuring his fingers in the process. He received a lot of treatment, and this took the steam out of Runcorn's attacks, allowing Celtic to reach the end of the match with a point.
Celtic weathered a lot in the second half, and the post came to the rescue more times than were comfortable. Runcorn's second half tactics were to lob the ball over the length of the field, and allow Kissock, Durkan and Young to run onto them ? and it was surprisingly effective. Celtic will certainly need to be more accurate in front of goal, and less generous at the back come Saturday when we visit local rivals Droylsden.