Celtic produced their best performance in weeks, spurred on by 150 or so away fans, but were left to rue a host of missed chances as they were held to a draw at Sandy Lane. Once again though controversy reigned as the Blues were left to see out the final fifteen minutes of an absorbing clash without Tony Sullivan, sent off after a fracas beside the Worksop bench.
Worksop attacked from the kick off and with less than a minute played Gary Ingham plunged to his left to turn away a fierce strike from Gray. That was all the home fans had to cheer for the next forty minutes as Celtic slipped into gear and dominated play with a tempo, movement and sharpness of passing that they have lacked in recent games.
Within five minutes of the goal Celtic had three attempts on goal cleared off the line. Steve Jones found space on the right side of the box to force Worksop keeper Holmshaw into a smart save but despite a posse of Celtic attackers queuing up to score the Worksop defence somehow managed to block shots from Sullivan, Parr and Cooke.
Sullivan and Jones were a constant threat feeding off passes from midfield and lay-offs from Cooke and a goal looked imminent. Kevin Parr, who won just about every ball he challenged for in the air, powered a header towards the top corner but Holmshaw plucked it out of the air. Ian Cooke then missed a glorious chance after Sullivan had once again turned the Worksop defence inside out. His square ball left Cooke one-on-one with Holmshaw 12yds out but he somehow missed the target.
Sullivan broke clear of the defence but his touch let him down at the vital moment, forcing him wide and giving Holmshaw the opportunity to narrow the angle and smother the shot. Compensation was just around the corner in the 22nd minute though. Andy Scott was played into space on the left and his pinpoint cross was met by Jones, who rose unchallenged to head into the top corner of the net. No more than the Blues deserved.
Worksop again failed to pick up Jones as he steamed down the right into the area but just as he was about to pull the trigger the bounce beat him and he scuffed his shot harmlessly wide.
As half-time approached Worksop began to come back into the game. A succession of corners failed to trouble the Celtic defence but in the 43rd minute a hopeful ball into the box was flicked on by Chris Waddle and Steve Johnson arrived behind the defence to smash the ball home from close range.
The second half saw more Celtic domination. Kevin Parr almost embarrassed Holmshaw when his cross/shot from 25yds didn't quite dip enough and just cleared the bar. Sullivan, who was showing his best form for weeks, tore Worksop apart time after time with his pace and control and twice forced Holmshaw to save with powerful drives. Jones also exploited the gaps appearing in the home side's defence to get himself into good positions but only managed to drag a couple of efforts wide. Worksop had carried little threat in the second half but Waddle was replaced and the new balance to the side began to cause Celtic problems. Crookes, Filson and Locke held firm though.
The match erupted into controversy in the 75th minute when Scott's fair challenge (the game restarted with a throw-in to Celtic) saw a Worksop player tumble into the dug-out. The disgraceful scenes that followed saw the entire Worksop bench rush onto the pitch to surround Scott and everyone bar the two keepers got involved in a heated battle. What was even more disgraceful was the abuse Sullivan, Scott and substitute Nigel Evans were subjected to, which didn't just come from the fans (I was sat only 5yds away from the dugout). Once the melee had been brought under control the referee, after consulting with his linesman, sent off Sullivan and an unused Worksop substitute. Worksop seemed entirely responsible for the disruption yet it was Celtic who were unfairly disadvantaged.
Once the game restarted Worksop tried to make their numerical advantage tell and both Johnson and Whitehead almost won it for them but after such an improved performance, and after all that had gone on, defeat won have been an injustice for Stalybridge