Celtic showed two sides to themselves tonight, and one of them was anything but pretty. A collapse that Fred Dibnar would have been proud of saw a commanding first half performance degenerate into a shambles with frustration written all over it.
Celtic were shown a lot of respect by the newly promoted hosts in the first half, and this resulted in Celtic seeing plenty of the ball. At times, it looked like Celtic were in danger of becoming complacent. There was an almost nonchalant air about the spreading of the ball around the park, as Celtic pressed attacks, they should have been 4-0 up by the break.
Foster could have opened the scoring in the first ten minutes when Potts' clever lob over the defence allowed Foster to break the offside trap. Hurst, in the Radcliffe nets was quickly off his line, scooping the ball out of the air, only to suddenly realise he was stood outside the area. I'm not sure, but I think that Hurst should have been red-carded for that, whether unintentional or not. Potts took the resulting free kick, but in his haste it cleared the bar.
Both Mayers and Foster could have grabbed a goal apiece as first a Caldecott cross was nodded just wide by Mayers, then a Bowman cross was similarly dealt with by Foster.
When Radcliffe did threaten, half way through the first half, it was through the industry of Denham. His turn and run onto a bouncing ball was halted as the ball bounced off German's upper arm. The free kick was well worked, with Battersby squaring the ball out to Landon, but his shot was right at the Celtic keeper.
Another player who constantly threatened was Banim, and when he robbed German to go one-on-one with Dootson, it looked certain he would open the scoring for the home side. He tried a chip over Dootson, but the Celtic number one was equal to it, pushing it over the bar.
Celtic's possession play finally came up trumps when Foster raced from a seemingly offside position to take the ball to the by-line; he pulled the ball back over the defence to Mayers who arrived unmarked at the back post to nod the ball home.
Great vision from Dootson moments later found Mayers again unmarked and he provided a matching cross into the box where Foster and Potts were both arriving unmarked. Hurst sprang some distance off his line to snatch the ball off the head of Foster.
Celtic looked to be settling into a rhythm of breaking up Radcliffe possession easily, and mounting an attack, Mayers was stopped in his tracks during one such move by Sampson, and Celtic tried a different free kick, squaring the ball out to Hooper. The shot was a screamer, but just over.
With a few minutes to go before half time, Radcliffe managed to string some pressure of their own together. Denham turned Bowman, but slipped and won a free kick which Mayers headed over his own bar. Whealing ran out from the corner and received it in timely fashion, but his resulting shot was weak in and wide. Denham was soon back in the thick of it, this time turning Parr and winning a free kick in the middle of the park. Battersby floated the free kick into the box. Banim just kept the ball in play and Luker headed narrowly wide when it looked easier to score.
Celtic capped an end to an excellent first half performance with a peach of a goal. Potts nipped in and robbed Battersby while he dwelled on the ball, freeing Foster to go one-on-one with Hurst. The 'Boro keeper came off his line, and Foster chipped a powerful, dipping ball over the top of him and into the top corner.
In the second half, Celtic could, and should, have buried Radcliffe beyond hope of recovery. Foster beat the last defender with a shimmy and lobbed the ball over the keeper to Potts, completely alone on the other side of the box, an instant side-foot and the end-result of this game would have been different. With all the time in the world though, Potts brought it under control allowing Hurst enough time to scurry across the net and bear down on the winger. Still there was hope, slide it under him, dribble round him, lob it over him - the options Potts had were innumerable. Instead, Potts tried the blaze of glory, and found Hurst equal to the powerful shot.
Parr too could have ended it. When Battersby headed back to his keeper (with the assumption the keeper was stood by the corner flag), he conceded a corner that Wharton whipped in. Parr's header looked in, with Hurst nowhere near, but it wasn't to be. What was amazing though, was the fact that Celtic were awarded a second corner. A deflection only the referee could see? This corner was spread out to Hooper who sent in a sizzling 40 yard shot that dipped just over the bar.
Radcliffe made a triple substitution that changed the face of the game. On came Margeson, Spencer and Elliott for Landon, Sampson and Luker - effectively swapping the midfield.
Suddenly Radcliffe were diving in and harrying Celtic where before there had been space and time. Instead of rising above it, Celtic responded in kind. And the game got scrappy in the worse way. Radcliffe took advantage of the new style. The ex-Celt Margeson was supposedly knocked off the ball by Caldecott, which anybody who knows the two players will realise, is patently impossible. Margeson floated in the free kick, and Dootson punched clear through a crowd of players, but Denham had found a new lease of life feeding off the new midfield, and was soon bringing the ball back to the by-line, he pulled a reverse cross back to Banim, who made it look simple enough to reduce the deficit to one goal.
Celtic could have responded instantly, but again failed to find the target as Foster beat Elliott and found a cross to Mayers, but it was agonizingly wide.
Potts miss at the start of the half looked even more crucial when Banim was running across the box, and suddenly went flying as he past Keeling. The referee obviously saw something, for he had no hesitation in pointing to the spot - and when Parr complained - he got shown the yellow card.
Banim scored his second in five minutes from the spot.
Again Mayers could have made an instant reply - twisting and turning in the box - but again, when his shot came, it was off target.
This repetitive missing cost Celtic dear just moments later when Denham latched onto a Margeson through ball and took it to the by line before cutting it back to the waiting and unmarked Margeson, who picked his spot just beyond Dootson's reach, and blasted it.
From controlling the game, Celtic had lost it completely, and it showed. When Keeling was adjudged to have fouled Denham just outside the box, it all boiled over. For more mouthing as well as his antics in the scuffle, Parr was shown a second yellow (his third in four days) and a red.
Dootson did well with the free kick, punching it over the bar as Margeson curled it around the wall, and despite there being 15 minutes left, Denham held the ball up in the corner. Bowman tried to extricate it and fouled Denham in the process. The free kick could not be controlled by Elliott and the pressure on the make-shift back four for Celtic was eased.
A goal down, a man down, and with no idea how to get back into the game, Celtic's collapse was complete. But there was worse to come.
As Potts raced down the dark side of the pitch (only 7 of the 12 floodlight bulbs were working on the first night match of the season!) he succumbed to the dark side of his nature. Battersby slipped as Potts turned him inside out, and grabbed Potts' feet, bringing the winger down. Had Potts' lay there, the sides would have been evened up by the referee, but instead Potts lashed out with his other foot catching Battersby in the chest. Quite rightly, Potts walked off in disgrace.
Radcliffe showed Celtic a lot of respect in the first half, but in the second half got stuck in, and Celtic could not react to the change. With the current injury depleted squad we could ill afford both Parr and Potts being dismissed in the same match for easily avoidable cards. If Celtic are to mount any kind of title challenge this season, three things need to happen: the team need to be able to kill opposition off when clearly in the ascendancy; the team need to be able to dredge up the will to fight back when their backs are against the wall; and the squad needs to be strengthened to absorb the loss of players through injury and suspension. Currently, the squad is picking itself.