Celtic faced their toughest challenge of the season to date, and possibly the whole season, when Southport came on the back of four straight wins without conceding a goal, especially as so many first team players were out through injury or suspension, and a few of the players fielded were carrying injuries.
German was put into a sweeper role behind a back four of Bowman, Caldecott (both carrying knocks), Bowker and Woods. Heald was put up front to partner Foster and the general consensus was that Celtic would get stuffed.
This looked even more likely when Ashcroft picked up a long punt up field from keeper Dickenson, danced around Woods before slotting the ball past Dootson inside the first five minutes.
Celtic pulled themselves together and produced a performance the likes of which has not been seen at Bower Fold for at least three seasons. Despite Southport's early promise of danger, Celtic coped well at the back, and managed to give as good as they got.
Foster was a constant threat to the visiting defense, and soon discovered Jones' weakness when he was pulled down on route to goal. The referee played advantage despite Caldecott being unable to reach the loose ball, and Jones got away with his over zealous foul - this time.
Celtic chased shadows for minutes at a time in the first half, but when they attacked, they looked as dangerous as the Sandgrounders. When Stone fouled Foster 40 yards out, Heald's free kick was missed by Woods, but Bowman got it back to Caldecott. Unfortunately his shot sped past the outside of the post. From the goal kick, Southport took route one again, this time Wright beat Bowker to go one-on-one with Dootson, bringing the best out of Dootson.
Bowman and Caldecott were both able to get up field with German remaining back as sweeper, and both were putting in good crosses. One such cross from Caldecott was dropped by Bowman to Hooper but his attempted chip went over. Bowman's cross was onto the head of Foster, and though his header was on target, it was too weak to test the keeper. Foster got a second chance when Caldecott's cross was punched weakly by the keeper as far as Hooper, who gave a difficult ball to Foster, somehow he managed to turn and volley though the shot was wide.
Southport did get the ball in the back of the net, when Byrne's cross was volleyed by an offside Ashcroft, and they got an amazing chance when Ashcroft stole in on a poor back pass from Bowker and tried to lift the ball over Dootson, but cleared the bar as well. Ashcroft was a constant threat, and moments later latched onto a clearance, sidestepped the long legs of Bowker and snapped off a shot that again brought the best out of Dootson as he acrobatically pushed the shot around the bar.
Right at the end of the half, Wharton was put through by Bowman, and went racing goal-ward. Jones wrestled him to the ground. The referee blew for a free kick, and would probably have sent Jones off there and then if Wharton had not lashed out at the defender, starting a scuffle that involved several players. The referee decided that so much had happened the best he could do was book them both. Celtic wasted the free kick. Unlike Southport, who earned a free kick well into stoppage time. Byrne spread it to Ashcroft who blasted it from outside the area allowing Dootson to produce another fine save.
In the second half Wharton made a diagonal run into the box onto Bowman's skimming cross. Stone stuck out a leg bringing Wharton crashing down. No hesitation from the referee, he pointed to the spot and Steve Foster became the first player this season to score past Southport and bring Celtic level.
Moments later, he proved it was no fluke. Woods bought the ball up from the back and looked to have lost out to Whitworth. Somehow he won the ball back while on the floor and pushed it into the path of Foster. Foster had his back to goal, but he was allowed the space to turn and curl a beautiful top corner shot past the keeper and into the back of the net.
Southport were almost level within five minutes, as Bowker was adjudged to have handled the ball just outside the area. Byrne's free kick curled around the wall and struck the upright before coming back to Pickford. Dootson was a big obstacle in front of the ex-Celtic favourite, maybe it was the history that made him put his shot over the bar.
It was Bowman who could have finished the visitors off from the goal kick Foster retrieved. Foster wriggled his way into the box and put a looping cross over the defense for the fullback arriving at speed. Two yards from goal, a gaping empty net, and his shot struck the bar rebounding out to Hooper who struck his shot over the bar. Caldecott got to test Dickenson a short while later when Wharton put the ball into his path and he struck it with such venom that when Dickenson caught the ball it knocked him back a step.
As Southport piled on the pressure, Celtic started defending like demons. German with a diving header past his own post and Woods doing a sterling job. But Southport were winning corner after corner, and free kicks aplenty. From one free kick Keeling got back, but sliced his clearance so badly only an outstanding save from Dootson kept the ball out of the net. Only stout defending and criminal misses from the Southport forward line kept them at bay.
Right before the end of the game, Mayers was brought on to calm Celtic down and allow them to hold the ball up. He managed to play Foster through the offside trap, but Jones was there with his rugby tackling again. This time he walked.
Celtic played keep-ball from the free kick, and eventually the referee decided enough was enough and allowed Celtic to be no only the first team to score past Southport, but also become the first team to beat them, and establish their own championship credentials.
This was an outstanding team performance and the man of the match selector had the toughest job of the night, eventually selecting Foster for his tireless work rate. Celtic need to keep the momentum of this win going if they are to challenge current league leaders Alfreton Town, whom they meet next week after another stern test on Saturday against the unbeaten away from home, Worksop Town.