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Match Report -
Phew!
By Mike Tilly

After being denied all three points by last minute equalisers in their last two home games Stalybridge salvaged an unlikely looking point in injury time when Ged Courtney plundered a goal to cancel out Adie Mike's 5th minute strike for Northwich.

Stalybridge almost got off to a flyer in the opening minute when Steve Pickford latched onto a poor pass from Northwich keeper Gibson, rode two challenges into the penalty area and smashed the ball goalwards only to see Gibson redeem himself with a fine block. Two minutes later Talbot was booked for bodychecking Kelly as Stalybridge took the game to the Vics.

Northwich took the lead with their first attack on goal. Kelly conceded a free kick on the half way line, which was hit long to the far post where Meaker somehow managed to hook it back across goal where Mike was on hand, unmarked, to power home an unstoppable header from close range.

Celtic came straight back at their opponents with Kelly heading over after a flick on from Futcher. Courtney then missed two good chances. Firstly when he totally miskicked after Kelly's header found him in space in front of goal and secondly when he struck a shot at goal from 15yds which the keeper saved comfortably. At the other end Garvey should have increased the visitor's lead but curled his shot from the angle of the area over the bar with Fish stranded miles away from his goal-line.

The referee, who had a particularly good game, then booked players from either side. Pickford was booked for needlessly kicking the ball away, and Barnard for scything down Peacock as he sprinted past him down the Celtic right. From the resulting free-kick Courtney, Pickford and Futcher all had shots blocked before the Vics scrambled the ball away.

Leon Kelly got round the back of the Vics defence only for Gibson to save his strike from a narrow angle, while Courtney really should have equalised when a long clearance from Fish sent him clear of the Northwich defence but he failed to trouble Gibson as he dragged his weak effort wide of the post.

Mike, Blundell and Devlin all had shots at the Celtic goal without troubling keeper Fish as the first period drew towards a close but it was Celtic who squandered the best opportunity in the dying minutes of the half. Kelly powered past several Vics players on his 60yd run before releasing Courtney with only the keeper to beat, but he again failed to make Gibson work when he blasted his shot from the edge of area over the bar.

After such a promising first half performance Celtic's second half display was abysmal and Northwich must consider themselves unlucky not to have taken all three points. Garvey saw his shot whistle over the bar in the 46th minute, then his pass to Blundell presented him with a golden chance to increase the visitor's lead but Fish got the better of him, deflecting his shot wide in a 1-on-1 situation. From the corner the clearance was volleyed from all of 30yds by Collins but Fish again kept Celtic in the game with a superb save to his right.

Kelly and Courtney both missed the target with headers as Celtic struggled to create any real chances and it was at the other end where a goal looked most likely. Blundell had a 20yd shot saved, Devlin drilled a shot wide from the same distance and a cross from Garvey was headed narrowly wide by Blundell.

With 11 minutes to go Futcher got on the end of a Peacock corner but saw his header blocked on the line by Barnard as Celtic tried to exert pressure on the Northwich goal. A minute later Celtic's chances looked to have been improved as Talbot was sent off for his second bookable offence on Kelly. But it was Northwich who twice came close to wrapping the game up. The impressive Garvey lifted a free kick just over the bar then Futcher came to Celtic's rescue, blocking from Collins with Fish stranded out by the corner flag (!).

With time running out Futcher moved up front to play as a forward as the Celts gambled everything on an equaliser. Woods shot wide from the edge of the area in the 87th minute but as injury time approached an equaliser looked unlikely until Courtney redeemed himself for his earlier misses. Woods chipped a hopeful ball up to the edge of the box, Futcher flicked it on and Courtney pounced to lift the ball over Gibson to score from 8yds. As the Celtic fans celebrated the goal Bushell almost stole the points when his shot was blocked in the goalmouth, but ten-man Northwich held on for a deserved point.

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