Saturday sees Celtic travel to Birmingham for the inaugural game at Hinckley United?s new Marston Road stadium. Hinckley are currently twelfth in the table, fourteen points ahead of us.
Hinckley have taken three points of Celtic once already this season, in January when they visited Bower Fold for John Reed?s first game in charge. JR did not pick that team, and he will have something to prove in the return leg. Hinckley will have something to say about that, though. This is their first game in their brand new, state-of-the-art stadium and they will want to christen it with a win.
Hinckley have been top of the Conference North table back at the start of the season. However, with their FA Cup exploits making the national news and Match of the Day, their league form suffered, plummeting them to fifteenth. Dean Thomas rallied his troops, and they have now climbed back up to twelfth on the back of four wins in eight games.
Those four victories came against bottom sides, Bradford, Runcorn, Moor Green and, of course, ourselves. In the last ten, those wins are their only ones, though they also have had a draw against Stafford. Otherwise, there have been five losses, two of which were at home. Their last three home games have seen two wins and one loss (to Vauxhall Motors, so a team with desire can beat them, even if they are in a new stadium).
They have failed to score in just two of their last ten matches, and kept two clean sheets. They have scored fourteen goals (eight at home), and conceded sixteen (seven at home). At home, they score an average of 1.8 goals per game, whilst conceding 1.5. Their top scorer is Paul Barnes, with fourteen goals, putting him joint fourth in the overall league goal scorers? chart. He is by far and away the most dangerous player at Hinckley, with his closest rivals Jamie Lenton, and Colin Marrison only having four goals apiece. Hinckley are dangerous right after the kick off and in the dying minutes, with a third of their goals scored in this period. Their weakest moment is for quarter of an hour after the hour mark, with half of their conceding done in this period.
They have yet to take six points off anybody this season, and will be looking to make Celtic their first. Redditch are the only team to have taken six points off them. Their best month was August, when they were the fourth best team in the league and their best home score is 4-0 in their last match against Bradford.
John Burns was sent off in the Bradford match, and depending on whether or not the ?instant ban? rule applies to our league, he may not be playing. Regular Keeper Tommy Whittle has been suffering from flu, and with reserve keeper Adrian di Gregorio is also unavailable through injury, so depending on Whittle?s fitness, they may be looking at stand-in Gresley Rovers? keeper Dale Bedford again, seeing how he kept a clean sheet against Bradford.
Against Bradford, they lined up as:
1. Dale Belford
2. Neil Cartwright
3. Brad Piercewright
4. Richard Lavery
5. Adam Willis
6. Andy Penny
7. Danny Pitham
8. John Burns
9. Paul Barnes
10. Chris Smith
11. Craig Woodley
Celtic will be checking the fitness of Scott Bonsall ahead of the game, and Ben Smith will also be having a fitness test after pulling a calf muscle against Halifax. Danny Caldecott and Chris Denham have both come through the last few games unscathed, and will probably start. Dean Calcutt and Phil Eastwood are both on loan, and Dave German is recovering from a hernia operation. Otherwise, Celtic?s squad is fully available!
Against Halifax, Celtic lined up as:
1. Craig Dootson
2. Gregg Pearce
3. Danny Caldecott
4. Barrie Keeling
5. Paul Sykes
6. Nathan Wharton
7. Steve Smith
8. Ben Smith
9. Aron Wilford
10. Andy Parton
11. Chris Denham
Celtic will be coming into the game with the kind of confidence they will need to get something out of this game. Currently five points away from safety a win is vital to keep the pressure on Runcorn, Vauxhall, Moor Green, Barrow and Worcester, as well as stopping Ashton from getting too close. And of course, if Lancaster are fined ten points for their failure to turn up to their own home game after Runcorn had made it a win could lift us out of the relegation zone and put Lancaster in it.
We are ten games unbeaten now, and Hinckley have been beaten at home by Vauxhall, so they are by no means invincible, even in their new stadium. With a coach load of spectators going down, there?s no reason why Celtic cannot make this new stadium their own, but it will be incredibly tough.