Stalybridge Celtic moved one step closer to the title with a win over lowly Bamber, so for the second season running we have taken all 6 points off them. With Emley playing Worksop, Celtic knew that a win could see them go top, assuming Worksop could maintain their impressive home record. As it transpired this was not to be the case, with Emley weathering a late storm to take all three points.
At the Irongate ground, the first half started with Celtic going at Bamber Bridge as though they were playing at home. Bamber rode their luck at times in the opening 20 minutes. Scott delivered a ball from the left that Steve Jones steamed in to head towards goal, but his powerful header skimmed the wrong side of the post. Sullivan then broke through from the right, carrying the ball into the heart of the penalty area, only a late tackle by McCann denied Sully a shooting opportunity. Filson's powerful shot from 20 yards was blocked by McCann, leaving the defender prone on the floor, unable to breathe! Minutes later, Ward crossed in from the right, and Parr headed it goalwards, only to see Captain and Keeper Stewart pluck the ball from the air.
There was a small spell after this when Bamber tried to gain a foothold in the game, and Pates' shot could only be parried by Ingham, such was the ferocity. Fortunately, the Celtic number one recovered and snatched the ball away from Pates as he rushed in to claim the rebound.
Celtic responded in kind, doing everything short of putting themselves one up. Locke was delivering plenty of long throws level with the penalty area as Bamber defended desperately. One sequence of three throws and a corner, eventually saw Parr head over for a goal kick. The kick from Steward was not good, and it allowed McNeil to race in from the left, but his shot curled harmlessly wide. Filson was then again denied by the outstanding McCann, this time on the line after Filson's mazey run (!) and shot parted the sea of bodies to find the defender in the way yet again!
The Brig defending was getting desperate, with fouls now being added to the danger of corners and throw-ins. After Ward was brought down by Woodward, Bauress whipped in a trademark free kick, that Jones blasted net-bound. McCann was there to save his keeper's blushes, and from the rebound which fell to Sully, he got in the way again.
Sullivan again got a sight of goal, racing into the area, but was brought down by Woodward. The ref waved play on, but it was clear the referee was not going to take much more of the heavy tackling.
Causing problems all through the half, as it came to a close, Sullivan crossed a low ball into the area. Cleverly Filson left it for Jones, who's shot was well saved by Stewart. Ward then crossed in for McNeil to take a little more paint off the upright. Finally as the half drew to a close, McNeil turned provider, with Jones stretching for the ball, unable to keep it down.
Migrating to the far end, Pickford (warming up in the interval) assured me that Celtic would get two in the second half. I should have also asked what Saturday's lottery numbers were going to be!
Pickford replaced Bauress early in the second period, and his first touch was a half volley from 25 yards that looped over the goal and stand. It was clear that Pickford had been brought on to create havoc in the Brig midfield, with his whole hearted challenges, and racing pace, and so it proved. Bamber looked like they were struggling to cope with Scott and McNeil coming in from the left, Ward and Sullivan from the right, Jones and now Pickford from the middle, it seemed at times that Bamber would just collapse. The only outlet for Bamber seemed to be the irrepressible Farley, who was brought on at the start of the half, and was proving a handful for the defence. However, Crookes and Co are the best in the business, and what few chances fell to him saw the defence calmly play him away from danger before clearing the ball.
Eventually, the breakthrough came when Sullivan was brought down for the second time in the box, moments after McNeil had been brought down in a similar way. This time, the ref pointed at the spot. With Bauress off the field, Sullivan stepped up and calmly sent Stewart the wrong way.
It was the breakthrough that Celtic needed. Now it did not matter that Bamber were packing the area for every shot, blocking or deflecting the shots. At one point, Stewart made a good save from a McNeil blast, Jones got on the rebound, only to see his shot blocked by Woodward on the line. It fell to Jones again, who aimed for the top corner, but somehow Stewart had regained his feet and tipped it over the bar.
Sullivan whipped in the corner from the right. Crookes steamed in completely unmarked, and connected well with the ball. Bottom left corner of the goal, the players were ecstatic, as were the large crowd that had come to sing them to the top of the table.
As in the first half, Bamber did manage to sustain a little pressure for ten minutes or so, with the best two efforts both coming through Farley. The first he crossed for Woodward to send over the stand, the second he took himself, but headed wide, though for a heartstopping minute, it looked goalbound with Ingham beaten.
As the game ticked away, Pickford's last action before limping off, was to see a scuffed shot saved well by Stewart, and Vicary came onto the pitch, with instructions to keep the ball in the corner. McNeil and Vicary danced around in the left hand corner watching the time tick away. Woodward got himself a booking for kicking at McNeil as he shepherded the ball out of danger.
The ref saw there was no use playing too long past the final whistle, and blew.
The news had gone around the ground that Emley had won at Worksop, meaning Celtic were not yet top. However, with Celtic playing on Tuesday night against Leek Town, and Emley only watching the Teletext results, there is every chance that Celtic will be top on Tuesday night.