Marcus Hallows marked his return to Bower Fold with a brace of goals in each half, but the game was by no means as one sided as the score-line suggests, with the Tigers enjoying stretches of possession, and playing football of a quality equal to that of Celtic.
With the new stand preventing migration during the game, Celtic started with their backs to their home fans, playing into the wind and the rain: Dootson's goal kicks struggled to reach the half way line.
Despite Worksop having kick off, it was Celtic who found themselves in front of goal first, with Wharton's intelligent diagonal ball giving Eastwood the space he needed for a shot - being Eastwood he took it, and only a charged down deflection from Barnard denied Eastwood the opener, though they did get a corner - which Worksop defended very well, clearing easily. Moments later, Hallows took advantage of a sliced clearance from Ludlam to snatch a shot that the keeper did very well to block. The rebound fell to Eastwood, and this time McCarthy made a good stop and held onto the ball.
But if anybody though this was going to be one way traffic, they were in for a shock when Muller got onto a long clearance to beat Bowker on the turn and go one on one with Dootson. The Celtic number one made a terrific one handed stop to take all of the pace off the ball as Muller blasted it goal-ward, and the mud took off even more allowing Bowker to get back and make a superb goal line clearance. Worksop continued to press their possession advantage to attack Celtic in a concerted 10 minute spell that saw an heroic last ditch tackle from Fitzgerald to deny Ludlam a shooting opportunity, then Todd attempted to wriggle through Fitzgerald and Pearce, succeeding enough to get a shot off, but it went wide. Muller followed suit with a diving header off an excellent cross from Hawes that he put around the same post as Todd.
Slowly, Celtic regained control of the game, and the passing was slick, the ball zipping around the wet surface. Celtic moved the ball up field, and eventually it came to Hallows, who put a well weighted ball into the path of Eastwood for a first time shot, but it was right at the keeper for an easy save. Hallows then denied Fitzgerald a goal when the winger danced through the Tiger's defence to get enough space for a shot, only to see Hallows' thigh deflect the ball wide.
Hallows redeemed himself within a minute. Eastwood held off Ludlam and Linnigan long enough for Fitzgerald to arrive in support. Eastwood squirreled the ball out between his markers to Fitzgerald. The Celtic number 3 put a simple square ball across the face of goal, McCarthy dived and missed the cross and Hallows prodded it home marking his return to Bower Fold with the opening goal.
Worksop were not given a chance to regroup after the goal. First Denham forced Ludlam into one of many mistakes, to win a corner, then Fitzgerald supplied a beautiful cross to the far post, only to see Hallows nod the ball the wrong side of the post. Hallows went close again within seconds, with Eastwood lifting a ball over the defence right into his stride, but the big striker's shot struck the crossbar and ricocheted back out to Bowman. Bowman was as surprised as anybody and his shot was wild.
Hallows was to get another chance within moments when Eastwood danced through the midfield and split the defence with a diagonal ball into the box for Hallows to run onto. Hallows went one-on-one with McCarthy, unlike his opposite number, McCarthy got nowhere near the power drive into the bottom corner of the net.
With quarter of an hour left in the half, Celtic relaxed a little bit, and that allowed Worksop a window back into the game. Bowker fouled Muller out near the corner flag to earn a yellow card and some defensive duties, Dootson claimed the free kick easily. Hallows then earned himself a yellow card sliding right through Kotylo near the half way line. German cleared that free kick before it reached the box.
Fitzgerald supplied a less than perfect cross to the back post. Denham performed heroics to keep the ball in play hooking it to the danger area, but neither Hallows not Eastwood had the pace to arrive in the box to collect, Denham had left them all in his wake! But this was a counter in Worksop's attacking period, and they were soon running at the defenders again. Wharton fouled Ludlam just before he could run into the box. Dootson punched the free kick clear. Soon Worksop were right back at Celtic though, as Celtic struggled to keep the ball clear. Muller put a diagonal ball across the box for Kotylo to get onto, but with Fitzgerald right beside him denying him a route to goal, he bundled the ball wide.
Celtic finished the half with a couple of corners. Eastwood tricked :Linnigan, but the defender's trailing foot went out for the first. The corner eventually fell to German who put it into the danger area. Denham's half volley struck Barnard to give Celtic their second, that Muller put over his own bar for a third corner. Worksop looked like they didn't like the pressure. It was third time lucky for them, as the corner was too long for everybody and went for a goal kick, which when took ended the half.
Worksop started the second half in the vein that they had ended the first, earning a free kick near the half way line almost immediately. Again, Celtic defended the lofted ball well, getting it clear, but Worksop were going to keep trying. Muller danced his way around German before whipping in a cross that Todd got a full head on, but Dootson was well placed and made the save look easy. Bowker slid in to dispossess Ludlam as the latter ran into the box, but gave Worksop a corner. Celtic scrambled the corner clear, but it was not a convincing defensive display, and showed that the Worksop pressure was beginning to build.
At the other end, the pressures of the defence were a pitch away. Denham fed a defense splitting pass that left Eastwood with a simple finish. However the mud that had denied Worksop an opener, now denied Eastwood a goal as the ball stuck and allowed the keeper to come in and scoop the ball up. Soon, Denham was racing at the visiting defence again, he beat Barnard and pulled the ball back for Eastwood at the edge of the box. Eastwood dummied to allow the ball to run to Wharton darting in. Perhaps Eastwood should have shot, because Wharton's welly was over the crossbar. Smith, who thus far had been having a solid hack-it-clear game, turned his hand to hack-'em-down, tacking Bowman's legs just outside the area. Wharton took it, and Smith made amends by deflecting around the post for a corner, then clearing the corner.
The goal that Worksop scored was lack of concentration on behalf of Celtic. Whitehead was going nowhere out near the corner flag when Wharton slid right through him. Claims of getting the ball were waved justifiably away and Ludlam lobbed the ball across the packed front of the six yard box to an unmarked Whitehead at the back post. A diving header later and Worksop were only one goal behind, and playing well.
Hallows immediately got a superb chance to return the two goal advantage. Denham beat Barnard for the umpteenth time of asking, and cut the ball back for Hallows running in. With Smith and Linnigan making a Hallows sandwich and the keeper directly in front of him, how Hallows got any kind of shot away is a mystery for Alan Davies! However, the ball trundled unmolested along the goal line, with nobody in a position to divert it to the goal side.
The ball was soon back with the Worksop attack and the Celtic defence though. Bowker clattered Caldwell near the opposite corner flag to the one that had supplied the goal. There was no bad marking this time, but a case of jittery defending as the ball pinged off several heads before being cleared by Bowman.
Strange decision time. Ludlam cleared a ball that struck Hawes. Eastwood nipped in and advanced one-on-one with McCarthy, chipped him, struck the bar and discovered he was offside...Another one for Mr. Davies to try and explain...
Eastwood took advantage of another error by Ludlam, this time a slip. The linesman's flag stayed down as Eastwood went one-on-one with McCarthy for the second time in as many minutes. The Tiger's keeper made an excellent save to deny Eastwood.
Parr, still recovering from a back injury, was replaced by Hooper. His first touch was to send Denham on a run past Barnard. He pulled the ball back from the by-line. McCarthy dived for and missed the pull back, Ludlam tried to clear it, but the poor clearance was right into the path of Hallows, and the Match Ball was going to Hallows today!
Worksop had a go at getting back in it, with Muller turning and shooting from the edge of the box, but it was an easy catch for Dootson, but then Hallows took all of the fight out of them.
Denham beat Barnard, but his shot struck Ludlam, landing right into the path of Hallows, who ran in on McCarthy, deja vu must have run through McCarthy's mind as Hallows rammed the ball past him to claim his fourth goal of the match and to cap a wonderful return to Bower Fold, fitness and form. Five goals in two games propelled the Celtic striker in to the top twenty league goal scorers! And he'd been out for months! Hallows was soon replaced with Mayers, and Caldicott got a run out in place of Fitzgerald.
Worksop did nearly get back in, almost immediately. Kotylo ran onto Muller's diagonal ball to go one-on-one with Dootson, but his shot struck the upright and went out for a goal kick.
Denham got onto a super ball from Wharton and McCarthy made an excellent block, though it looked like his luck was out when the rebound fell to the freshly on Mayers, but Smith made an excellent recovering tackle to deny Mayers. Wharton got another chance at goal when Caldicott found him unmarked at the edge of the box. Again though, he put the ball over the bar. Denham again, moments later forced a top notch save from McCarthy, after Wharton freed him, he struck a sweet shot from just outside the box that McCarthy could only tip around the post fro a corner. The corner came to German, but he put the ball over the cross bar. It didn't matter, the full time whistle had gone.
This was an excellent performance by Celtic in difficult, wet conditions. They moved the ball well, and created plenty of chances, putting away four of them. It was great to see Hallows back in action, and he took his goals well. And it needed to be thus, for Worksop were by no means poor, and created chances of their own, playing excellent football that for long periods at a time left Celtic chasing shadows. A perfect set up for Wednesday's semifinal cup tie with Runcorn.