Stunning Absolutely Stunning
By Deborah Taylor
Forest Green did not have a shot on target throughout the entire game, and it cost them dear. Celtic on the other hand are proving that they have been learning in the Conference cauldron.
Kelly was the inspiration in both of Stalybridge's goals, proving too much to handle for the home defence. In the opening moments, he latched onto a cross, twisted inside Howey, and let loose a powerful strike that whistled over the bar with a fraction of an inch to spare.
Celtic continued to press the home side, producing some stunning passing, and keeping the home fans silent. With a back three, wing backs and a four man midfield, Forest were pressed into their own half for long periods.
Peacock was spread wide into a position where he could cause the home defence maximum consternation. And he did.
Such was the pace of the Celtic attacking, that Forest were forced into bringing players down in a desperate display of defending. Kelly suffered more than his fair share of the fouls as he probed for another opening in the Forest back four. For a change, he only earned the home side one yellow card, for Howey after he left the defender static ten yards from penalty area.
The home side quickly learned that Kelly was a handful, and when he pulled across the back of the penalty box, after Parr laid off Peacock at the edge of the box, he drew most of the home side with him, leaving Peacock with acres of space at the edge of the box. He did not waste the opportunity and produced a spectacular save from Perrin, which he tipped over the bar at full stretch.
Despite not having a shot on goal, Rovers tried, and their best chance of the half came when Travis skipped past Scott and whipped in a cross for Daley to get on the end of. Though Daley threw himself into the six yard box, the ball slid harmlessly out of play. They also earned a free kick some ten yards outside the penalty area, but Shaw's free kick was awful, striking the wall and cleared by Futcher.
Between Rover's two chances came the Celtic goal, and it was that man Kelly again. Latching onto a Bushell lay off he raced into the penalty area only to be sliced down by Howey. Howey was fortunate to stay on the field, and escaped a booking only because there was a covering defender, and he was already on a yellow card.
Pickford stepped up to take the spot kick, much to the relief of the small travelling contingent, and he sent them into raptures as he sent Perrin into the wrong corner.
The home fans, cautiously vocal up to that point, went silent.
For once the Celtic Conference Curse did not affect the outcome, when Howey skirted his second yellow again by handling the ball in the area, through good vision or good luck Howey's antics escaped the noticed of all four men in black, though the indrawn breath of the Forest fans should have alerted them to the offence.
Celtic continued to make Forest Green uneasy, with Kelly getting into some good positions, but sending his shots wide or over. The home side must have been grateful for the half time whistle.
Celtic started the second half just as brightly, but it was the home side who started to look the most likely to score. A Shaw through ball fell into just the right place for Travis to let off a powerful shot from the edge of the box before Woods could close him down. Moments later, Travis got in a cross that was met on the six yard box by Daley, but he was leaning back, and his header climbed over the cross bar.
Futcher Snr decided that a change of tactics was in order, and he replaced Bushell (playing in a wingback role) for Williamson, to shore up the defence, and switch into a more traditional back four.
This slammed shut the routes to goal for Forest, and they never threatened again.
Celtic though were playing with a belief that had not been seen for some time.
Though Middleton was brought on to try and find an equaliser (he replaced Small in defence), he was unable to provide a good ball that Futcher, Woods or Williamson were unable to deal with. Indeed the Celtic defence looked strong, even when Scott was allowed to run forward and whip in crosses to Kelly (he missed the target twice).
Howey was then replaced by Impey before he was sent off for one too many crashing tackles on Kelly, but the Rovers defence looked just as vulnerable with Impey in it. Despite his fresh legs, he just could not compete with Kelly.
Kelly got a reward for his persistence, when Foster was unable to control a bad pass from Impey, allowing Kelly to steal the ball in the centre circle, beat Impey and Jenkins for pace, and slip the ball under Perrin's despairing dive.
On a rather inspirational note, Celtic have not won away from Bower Fold in the conference since October 11th 1997 when we beat Hayes 2 - 1. That's just shy of four years without an away win! Admittedly, 1997 was our last time in the conference... But it sounds good as a statistic!