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Match Preview :- Blyth Spartans - Saturday April 7th, 2007 (15:00:00)
Saturday sees Celtic take one of their longest road trips of the season as we travel up the A1 to the northernmost club, Blyth Spartans (3pm kick off). Blyth are newly promoted this season and have had a storming season, actually topping the table in September. A wobbly February saw them drop out of the play off places to their current seventh, nine places and nine points above Celtic.

Celtic have a good record against the Spartans, and have not lost a league encounter with them since 1998, when they beat us 3-2 at Croft Park in the Unibond Premier. We repeated that score-line at Bower Fold early this season, recording our ninth win in ten league encounters with them. We beat them twice in our last season of the Unibond, and in our treble winning season, we beat Blyth four times in the league, FA Cup and FA Trophy, scoring six goals and conceding two. So Blyth have a lot to gain revenge for, and the automated prediction algorithm calculates that it is time for Blyth to overturn a decade of dominance from Celtic over Spartans, with a 3-2 home win, echoing the game nine years ago.

Though Blyth lost their last home game 1-2 against Redditch, they have won their last two away games at Barrow and Alfreton. They have a stingy defence that has kept fifteen clean sheets this season, nine of them at home, and two of them in their last three matches. They sit just outside the top five defences this season thanks to conceding just 0.9 goals per game at home (1.2 overall). Up front they recently signed ex-Celtic forward Aron Wilford, to add to an already impressive front line of Scott Bell and Robert Dale, who have scored twelve and eleven respectively, giving them two entries in the top twenty goal scorers in the league (fourteenth and sixteenth respectively). This front line has managed to knock in an average of 1.4 goals per game at home this season (1.3 overall), and has scored in all but five games this season. There most dangerous period in a match is just after the restart when they have scored nine, with the hour mark being their most vulnerable, when they have conceded sixteen in a twenty minute spell. Blyth do keep it tight in the first half, with sixteen of their conceded forty-three.

Blyth have taken all six points off Alfreton, Barrow and Scarborough this season, with only Workington, so far, taking all six from Blyth. Celtic and Vauxhall Motors are the only two teams left for Blyth to play who can take all six points off them. Blyth have only won one game at home this season, at the beginning of March when they beat Worksop 2-0. Redditch, Workington and Nuneaton have all come away from Croft Park with three points, so they are far from unbeatable at home.

Blyth will be without midfielder Chris McCabe on Saturday, due to his two game suspension for a caution accumulation. In their last match, the 2-0 win away at Barrow, Blyth lined up as:
1. Adam Bartlett
2. Ben Christensen
3. Alex Gildea
4. Andrew Leeson
5. Peter Snowdon
6. Gareth Williams
7. Phillip Turnbull
8. Chris McCabe
9. Rob Dale
10. Scott Bell
11. Aron Wilford

Celtic will be without Mark Hume, who is will be serving the second game of his two match ban, Barrie Keeling who is out for the season with a fractured cheekbone, and long term injuries Mark Hume and Steve Smith. Dominic Krief has been struggling with his groin of late, and is recuperating at Bradford Park Avenue, whilst Chris Lever (concussion) and Neil Prince (ahem, groin) both had to be replaced during the match and will be assessed ahead of the Blyth trip. In the last match, the 2-2 draw at home to Hinckley, Celtic lined up as:
1. Simon Bishop
2. Grant Black
3. Scott Maxfield
4. Tom Cowan
5. Chris Lever
6. Ashley Winn
7. Ben Smith
8. Paul Sykes
9. Steve Brodie
10. Matty Barlow
11. Neil Prince

With Leigh and Scarborough both at home (to Moor Green and Nuneaton respectively), Celtic need to keep the momentum up and get something from Croft Park to keep the distance between ourselves and the bottom three. The other games that concern us are, Redditch away at Harrogate, Vauxhall away at Hinckley, Barrow away at Droylsden and Gainsborough are away at Worcester. Worksop do not have a game.

If results go our way ? starting with a win at Croft Park ? we could move up to fourteenth and put eight points between us and the drop zone. This is what the team must focus on.
Distance: 152
Time: 3 hours and 35 minutes

Head up the M62 towards Leeds, and take junction 29 (M1).
From the M1 join the A1(M) heading North.
Stay on the A1 for about 100 miles to just past the Washington Services, and stay in the right hand lane to join the A194(M).
Stay on the A194(M) to the end and go straight across the roundabout onto the A194.
Continue on the A194 to the junction with the A19, and take the northbound slip road onto the A19, through the Tyne Tunnel (costs ?1.
From the Tyne tunnel, continue on the A19 (signposted Morpeth).
At the second roundabout, take the A189 (signposted Ashington).
At the third roundabout, join the A1061 (signposted for Blyth).
Stay on the A1061 across two roundabouts, to a third with the A193.
Turn left onto the A193 (signposted Industrial Estate).
At the next roundabout, turn right onto Plessy Road, and the ground will be on the left.

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