Celtic helped open the new Hinckley Stadium with a draw that after a first half of reading from the script, looked anything but likely. It should have been a glorious victory for the home side, but Celtic fought back, and earned a draw.
Before kick off the Hinckley Town Crier, and the Soccerette from Sky's Soccer AM show, opened the proceedings in front of over 2000 spectators, shortly followed by a gale with driven sleet.
After kick-off, Hinckley tried to christen their stadium with attacking football that saw none of the antics from the previous game at Bower Fold, and showed what a good side Hinckley can be. Pitham's powerful run into the corner was stopped as the referee spotted Black tugging his shirt, but Caldecott, getting his first league start since Boxing Day, cleared. Though Parton won a corner off Penny that Lenton cleared, this was about Hinckley attacking, and soon Cartwright took advantage of Caldecott selling himself short and whipped in a fine cross for Chris Smith, but the Hinckley forward drove narrowly wide from close range.
Woodley then tried an attack from the other side, this time Cartwright getting on it, but shooting tamely into Dootson's midriff. As Hinckley pinged the ball about, it only looked a matter of time before they would get a goal, and it looked as though Pitham had done so when he burst past the static Celtic defence and fired a low shot across the six-yard box that was off target, and would have gone for a goal kick had not Woodley come steaming in at the far post, only to scuff his shot wide of the mark.
Celtic got a couple of free kicks around the box as first Penny held Wilford, and then Piercewright held Denham, but both chances went begging with short free kicks amounting to nothing.
The goal that Hinckley were looking for came halfway through the first half. Woodley's initial shot took a deflection off Pearce to loop over the cross bar and go for a corner. Pearce headed the near post corner back to Woodley who sent a cross fizzing into the danger area where Lenton was waiting to apply to coup de grace.
Cue even more pressure from the home side. Chris Smith latched onto a Barnes through ball to go one-on-one with Dootson, only to see a good stop from Dootson. Next Woodley surged past Black and fired a fierce drive that rattled the new woodwork and Keeling had to react quickly to put the ball out for a corner as Barnes came sliding in. Wilford cleared the corner, and Celtic managed a bit of pressure of their own, resulting in Shepherd winning a corner out of Lenton. Pitham cleared, but Celtic were getting into stride, and looked a little more dangerous. Penny held Wilford as the big striker tried to power past him, giving Celtic a well-positioned fee kick thirty yards from goal. Shepherd took, but put his free kick over the bar.
Hinckley came back as the half began to run down, with a Cartwright cross finding top-scorer Barnes coming in at the back post with Keeling for company, and that company did just enough to make him put his header narrowly wide. Chris Smith brought down a Burns cross taking Keeling out of the picture with one good touch before putting a dipping shot over Dootson and off the crossbar. They kept the pressure on after a Wilford handball some thirty-five yards out. Burns curling free kick was parried by Dootson and cleared up by Caldecott.
The final move of the half fell to Celtic, as Wilford was bear-hugged by Burns. The free kick was taken short to Steve Smith who got within touching distance of the penalty box before being brought down by Piercewright. Shepherd again took the free kick, and again put it over the bar.
Sykes came on for Denham in the interval to shore up the overrun midfield, but he couldn't stop Barnes latching onto Pitham's through ball, and winning a corner off Pearce. The corner was cleared and for the first time, Parton got the better of his marker, driving towards the Hinckley goal. The stout Hinckley defence stood in his way, and Parton saw Wharton in a great position, cutting the ball back to him inside the penalty area. Wharton took the instant shot, and it needed a thrown out leg from Piercewright to deny Celtic an equaliser. They couldn't convert the corner, but soon Parton was driving at them again, winning a corner out of Lenton.
Hinckley responded well to the Celtic pressure, and Chris Smith made a darting run and cross for Cartwright, but the full back volleyed well wide of the mark. Woodley blasted at goal, and Keeling was required to deflect it around for a corner. Smith worked a free header, but put it over the bar unchallenged.
Hinckley were made to rue their misses, when Wharton's driving run ended with a corner off Cartwright. Whittle had not had much to do in the home goals, and he came for the corner, flapping somewhat at it, succeeding in sending the ball towards his own goal. Keeling threw himself at the ball, sending it spinning towards the goal, and it looked as though Lenton on the line would clear, but Parton appeared and put Lenton off, allowing the ball to flash into the net.
Celtic sensed that an upset was on the cards, and Steve Smith put a through ball into the packed defence, Whittle raced out, but Sykes slid in and dinked the ball under the advancing keeper, but it trundled narrowly wide. A driving Parton run put the loan-striker into the box one-on-one with Whittle. Whittle stood up well against Parton and as the striker tried to blast it past him, Whittle made a great stop with his legs.
Celtic's normal moment of controversy came with a mistake from the otherwise excellent referee. Barnes scuffed a shot, Black opened his legs on Dootson's shout, allowing the trundling ball to be smothered by the Celtic keeper. The referee decided that Black had touched the ball, when he patently had not, and awarded an indirect free kick to Hinckley, just inside the Celtic penalty area. Woodley faked a knock out, sending the line of Celtic players on the goalline racing out, but the referee pushed them all back, and restarted the free kick. This time, Woodley knocked it to Barnes who thundered his shot well over the bar.
With the Celtic defence rattled, Penny had the opportunity to loft the ball to Chris Smith running through the defence, Black blocked, and Dootson punched the resulting corner out as far as Lavery, who shot well wide of the mark. Smith then won a corner out of Keeling, trying to run past him, and this time Dootson caught.
With the game running out of time, Celtic almost nicked it. Steve Smith cut the ball back to Wilford, who turned and shot, but put the ball over the bar. Wilford then tried his luck from outside the box after working some space, but his curling dipping shot was met by an equally good save from Whittle. And with only minutes to go, Parton threaded the ball into the box for Steve Smith running in, but remarkably, he fired his shot over the bar when it looked certain he would score.
Celtic's unbeaten run stretches into double figures with this well deserved draw. With Runcorn losing, Celtic's future survival is now in their hands, as Runcorn are five points ahead having played an extra game, and yet to come to Bower Fold. Winning their game in hand, and beating Runcorn would give Celtic more points (assuming all the other results are equal!). Next to visit Bower Fold are a resurgent Worcester. Celtic were only narrowly beaten at Worcester's ground, and a win would go a long way towards Celtic's Conference North survival, and a win is by no means impossible on Celtic's current form.