Celtic?s penultimate league game is on Saturday when we welcome AFC Telford for a 3pm kick off. Telford are currently right behind Celtic just two points behind, with seventy four points in third. Both sides know that a win will book a place in the play offs. There will be a Live Match Centre for this match.
Telford?s rise up the league pyramid since reforming from the ashes of Telford United continues apace, and they find themselves perfectly placed for their second successive play off end to the season having negotiated the Unibond Play offs to get into the Conference North last season. They have been one of the league?s most consistent teams this season, and have been in the top five since day one, with just one week in sixth after a pair of defeats back in October.
Telford have already beaten us this season, 3-0 at the New Bucks Head stadium, back in October, and have a good record at Bower Fold, beating us on their last two visits here. Their last visit was almost six years ago to the day of this year?s fixture, when they beat us 2-0 in the Conference National. Five years prior to that, in Celtic?s other venture into Non-league?s top tier, they beat us 2-1 in December 1997. Over Celtic?s last five meetings with Telford, they have beaten us every time, a switch from the previous years, when Celtic remained unbeaten against them. When Celtic first met Telford (United) in the Conference in 1992 it was a 3-3 draw, and over the next five years Celtic met Telford ten times, winning five, and drawing five.
Telford?s last away game this season saw them loose 3-0 to league champions Kettering ? the game that saw Kettering crowned as champions with five games remaining. Prior to that, it was a 2-0 defeat at the hands of Nuneaton. At home, it?s been no different, with Southport and Barrow both beating them at home, a trend reversed in their last match, a game that they won 3-1 by beating Harrogate, ending the run of four straight defeats. This set of results leave?s second place perfectly poised going into the last week of the league. Celtic need four points to ensure second spot, in case Harrogate win their remaining three fixtures; whilst both teams need three points to ensure a play off place. A draw for Celtic would ensure that we finish above Telford, unless they win their last game by nine clear goals.
Telford?s top scorer this season is Matty Lewis, who has fifteen goals putting him eighth in the Golden Boot league just behind Celtic?s Chris Hall who has sixteen goals. Lee Moore is his closest rival on eight goals. On average Telford score one goal per game away (1.6 overall), and concede a goal per game (both home and away). They have the fifth best defensive record in the league (Celtic are sixth), having conceded just forty-one goals this season (twenty away). They have kept seven clean sheets on the road (fifteen overall), and failed to score in seven games (ten overall). They score their first goal on average in the forty-fourth minute, and concede in the forty-eighth. Three of their failures to score have come in the last five games, and their last clean sheet was at home to Redditch in March.
Part of Telford?s recent poor form has been down to injuries to key players; defenders Indy Khela Jimmy Turner and Dave Roberts have all been missing from Telford?s back line with a thigh strain, suspected fractured metatarsal and pulled hamstring respectively. Roberts?s suspected broken foot did not stop him playing in Telford?s return to form for their 3-1 defeat of Harrogate last Saturday, though Khela and Turner were both missing. Against Kettering, Telford handed a debut to new signing Emeka Nwadike, who was formally with Worcester and Alfreton. Telford have no suspension worries for the match on Saturday, and lined up in their 3-1 home win against Harrogate as:
1. Ryan Young
2. Steve Jagielka
3. Asa Charlton
4. Carl Rodgers
5. Dave Roberts
6. Gary Fitzpatrick
7. Jon Adams
8. Emeka Nwadike
9. Matty Lewis
10. Lee Moore
11. Simon Forsdick
Celtic will be without Terry Barwick for the match, who is serving the second of his two match ban for an accumulation of cautions. Garry Burke returned to the bench for Celtic?s last match against Vauxhall Motors, but Lee Ellington was still missing with his broken foot. Otherwise, Celtic are fully fit and lined up against in their 4-1 home win over Vauxhall as:
1. Paddy Gamble
2. Ashley Woolliscroft
3. Andrew Smart
4. Steve Payne
5. Barrie Keeling
6. Paul Sykes
7. Steve Torpey
8. Ashley Winn
9. Chris Hall
10. James Dean
11. Alex Meechan
Celtic have only been beaten both home and away by one team this season, and that is Nuneaton. Telford have a chance to make that two teams, but they may well find us a different prospect now than the team that faced them back in October. We have a chance to avenge that result, and stake a top three spot ? but it will require a big push to break down one of the best defences in the league ? fortunately, Celtic have the second best attack in the league, our eighty-one goals are only four goals shy of Kettering?s current tally.
This week sees some crucial games in determining who will make up the final four. The following teams are still in the play-off hunt: Celtic, Telford, Harrogate, Barrow, Nuneaton and Southport.
On Tuesday Barrow host Kettering, whilst Southport host Alfreton. A loss for either team would mean that they cannot catch Celtic. A loss for both would book Celtic a place in the play-offs, with only three teams capable of overtaking us, even if we lost our final two games. Saturday?s other fixtures of interest are:
Barrow (5th) v Tamworth (14th)
Harrogate (4th) v Hucknall (20th)
Nuneaton (6th) v Southport (7th)
If Celtic can take all three points on Saturday we would be guaranteed a top three finish, but this is our largest hurdle to finishing second. Out of the chasing pack, we are already guaranteed to finish ahead of Nuneaton, whilst Barrow and Southport both need to win their remaining two and three games respectively to finish above us. There are a lot of permutations that would ensure Celtic a play-off place with our current haul of seventy-six points, so we are in a great position, but we cannot assume that we have done it. It is easier to describe the one route to not finishing in the play-off spots, and that is Telford, Harrogate, Barrow and Southport win their remaining fixtures. That is not an inconceivable route, but it does mean that even were we to lose on Saturday, we may still be in the top five come the end of the season should any of the pack fail to win their remaining games.