Match Report -
A late penalty save denies Celtic three points
By Iain Benson
A penalty save in the dying seconds denied Celtic the three points they perhaps should have got.

Celtic started well, and Keith Briggs was denied by Udoji?s foot after cutting in from the corner of the box, the ball spinning just wide of the post off the deflection. Moments later though, and a perfectly weighted ball from Joe O?Neill into the box saw Briggs let it drift across his body before smashing in his shot from an acute angle giving Lee Evans in the Stafford nets no chance. Connor Jennings got his first start for a few games, and immediately made a nuisance of himself, firing just over the bar and narrowly wide from the edge of the box, whilst Matty Barlow was unlucky as Jon Patrick threw himself in front of Barlow?s shot to concede a corner rather than a goal that Steve Woods headed goal bound, only for Evans to make a good reaction stop. At the other end, Michael Burns had a decent enough effort that required sharp keeping from Dave Carnell. A peach of a cross from Dave Hankin eluded everybody except Connor Jennings ghosting in at the back post to side foot home from a yard out.

Just before the interval and Hankin had a go himself, weaving through the Stafford defence before getting the space to really test Evans, and find him in sparkling form, saving well to his right. Minutes later and a Richard Battersby cross in struck a defender and was destined for a top corner until Evans got across to tip it out for a corner.

Stafford reorganised for the start of the second half in what proved a masterstroke with a midfielder replacing a forward. It was still Celtic who started the better, with both Matty Barlow and Andy Smart testing Evans, both times excellent keeping stopping Celtic getting the killer third goal. Those saves gave Stafford a chance, and when Fabrice Kasiama side-footed home Levi Reid?s cross, looking yards offside, suddenly Stafford were back in the game. Stafford?s heads went up.

While Celtic were in disarray at the back, Nick Wellecomme and Tony Dinning both forced Carnell into saves, putting the Celtic back line under increasing pressure.

However, Celtic eventually steadied, weathered the storm and came back at Stafford. A Joe O?Neill shot was parried by Evans as far as Peyton who struck a first time shot in, with Jon Patrick throwing himself in the way, the block coming back to Peyton who saw McCaughtrie throw himself on the line to deny Peyton?s second stab at getting the killer goal, this time the ball came out to Keith Briggs, who nodded a hand span wide. Jennings received the ball in the centre of the box and laid it off to O?Neill with Stafford?s defence looking ropy, but again Evans was there to make the stop, tipping the ball round the post for a corner, and it took two goes for Evans to catch hold of Jenning?s half volley.

With just one goal in it, Stafford always stood a chance of getting something from the game, and when Tom Thornley found himself twenty-five yards out, unmarked and under no pressure, he fired in a sensational curling shot into the top corner with Carnell only able to stand and stare.

The game looked to be heading for a 2-2 draw, when Hankin won a corner, and instead of going for the ball, Nick Wellecomme bardged through Briggs, right in front of the referee. Substitute Graeme Law took the penalty striking low to Evans?s right, the keeper guessed correctly, and pulled off the save that earned Stafford the draw.

1Evans, Lee  
2Francis, Andre  
3Patrick, Jon  
4Thorley, Tom  
5Udoji, Emmanuel  
6McAughtrie, Craig  
7Reid, Levi  
8Burns, Michael  
9Wellecomme, Nick  
10Alexander, Warwick  > 45
11Kasiama, FabriceYellow Card 
12Holland, Craig  
14Dinning, Tony  < 45
15Rogers, Joe  
16Brindley, Chris  
17Whitehouse, Adam  
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