Celtic's run of bloody-minded bad luck continued in the President's Cup, a trophy Celtic was defending. Miller had fielded a tall side in a bid to counter Ashton's bulk, but it was one of the smaller people on the pitch that would turn the game.
This was a typical derby cup game, end-to-end, passionate and entertaining to watch, despite the persistent drizzle with some heavy showers. Fitzgerald had the opening shot inside the first minute when Wharton laid him off, but the outstanding Trueman tipped the shot around the foot of the post. In typical Celtic style, the corner amounted to nothing. A Denham and Bowman interchange put the latter into a shooting position, and he then put the ball in the stand. Then Wharton got to try out Trueman's reflexes, when Denham spread the ball along the 18-yard line, and the latest Celtic captain unleashed a powerful strike that Trueman did well to hold onto. Ben Smith brought the ball out of defence and saw the red and white sea parting before him. He didn't need to be asked twice and on reaching the edge of the box also unleashed a powerful shot. Adams unwittingly deflected it, but the referee overruled his linesman and gave a goal kick (presuming that Celtic would do nothing with the corner anyway, and saving everybody a lot of time).
From the goal kick, Ashton won a corner at the other end as Keeling stopped Johnson with a crunching tackle. The corner ran all the way out to Steve Smith, but his first time shot struck Pearce on the way through the defence taking the sting out of it, and making an easy catch for Bowling.
A Bowman cross was right onto Eastwood's head ? or it would have been had Dyson not been having the game of his life with a last second interception conceding the corner. As if to prove the referee right earlier, Celtic provided the crowd of less than 250 with an intricate affair that resulted in Heald shooting narrowly wide. Soon Clegg joined the 'just-wide' club when he expertly brought down Ben Smith's cross and volleyed inches the wrong side of the post.
Dyson's last minute blocks denied first Wharton running onto a peach of an Eastwood through ball, and then he unwittingly blocked a driven shot from Eastwood that came to Clegg. Clegg tried to get past the Robin's central defender, but he threw himself in the path of it again.
Then a moment of controversy, as lately, no Celtic game would be complete without one.
Denham raced onto Bowman's slipped through ball and charged at full pelt into the box, White blatantly tripped him with a tackle from behind after Denham had entered the box, the referee gave a goal kick as Denham had been unable to reach the fast moving ball on account of wondering where his feet were. At least Denham didn't get a yellow card for diving!
A double save from Truman kept the scores level when Clegg fed Denham to put him one-on-one with Trueman. The visitor's keeper made a great save with his legs when it looked certain that Denham would score, and when Heald came in for the rebound, Trueman flung himself into the path of the ball so that Heald's shot was into a ball in Trueman's midriff.
Then the Celtic defensive frailties were cruelly exposed. Keeling conceded a corner that fell to Allison in the centre of goal, completely unmarked. Some may say that Bowling should have come and claimed, but he didn't and Allison gratefully thumped his header into the back of the net.
Celtic's game plan didn't alter and literally within seconds Clegg was battling through the midfield, they tried to take his legs from under him three times before he released the ball to Denham, Denham's first time lob over the defence was knocked into the back of the net by a first time strike from Eastwood, it was deflected slightly, but had been a goal all the way anyway.
If Celtic had cause to complain about the lack of a penalty, Ashton had cause to complain when Bowling came rushing off his line after Miller had beaten the offside trap to go one-on-one with him. His lunging tackle got the ball before the player, but the referee deemed it dangerous and gave a free kick a couple of feet from the penalty area. Bowling should have been sent off if a foul was committed, but got instead a yellow card. Steve Smith's free kick was well taken, but just wide. For complaining about the decision, Miller also got a yellow card.
Half time came at a most inconvenient moment. Denham and Heald switched the ball around between them freeing Denham to tee-up a shot from just inside the box. Before his boot could strike the ball, the half time whistle blew.
Ashton started the second half with intent. Steve Smith forcing Bowling into a save after cutting inside Keeling, and then Miller forcing Bowling into a good stop that Pearce was required to tidy up as the parry looked like running along the goal-line.
Bowman provided Wharton with an excellent through ball that Wharton rather wasted, shooting immediately when a couple of touches were available ? the ball screamed well over the bar. The same was not true when Ben Smith's cross into the danger area saw Eastwood nip between Dyson and Trueman to nod the ball over Trueman's outstretched fingers and give Celtic the lead.
Ashton tried the instant reply, when Steve Smith grabbed hold of a half cleared ball, lashing it goalwards, only for Bowling to produce a great save to his left, tipping the ball around the post. Carty found himself in acres of space off the corner, but was unable to punish Celtic with his shot hitting the side netting.
Heald, having seen the response that Denham got when he was brought down in the box rode the rough, hacking challenge of Adams as he entered the box, stumbled, kept his feet and took the ball around Trueman, the Robin's keeper clipped his foot with his hand, but still Heald maintained his balance, sliding the ball towards goal. Dyson came steaming in and cleared off the line at the last second. Ben Smith, too, got a great opportunity, Dyson pushed him wider and wider, and thought he'd done enough until a lovely turn gave Smith a chink of an opening which he exploited with a reverse shot that just cleared the bar. Heald was then denied when Denham's super cross was cut out by an even better diving save from Trueman. Denham tried to go on his own when he ran onto a perfectly weighted Bowman through ball. Only a sliding tackle in the six-yard box from Dyson stopped Denham from running the ball into the back of the net. Denham returned the favour as Celtic kept piling the pressure on Ashton; Bowman's first time snapped off shot was over the bar though. Denham was desperate for a goal, and after beating both Adams and Dyson in the box with a turn and sprint that left hem behind he had only the goal in his eyes. Eastwood and Heald were both unmarked, Eastwood on the penalty spot, Heald at the corner of the six-yard box, but Denham tried the shot (his prerogative) and brought possibly the best save of the night out of Trueman. It was Ben Smith's turn next to be thwarted by Trueman. Denham tee-d him up at the edge of the box, the shot was excellent, the save matched it.
And when Trueman wasn't in the way, the defence was. Denham spread the ball along the line to Wharton. Wharton wellied it, Adams' unwittingly deflected it, and Celtic had another corner they could waste.
It looked like Celtic wouldn't need the breathing space. The clock ticked into the second minute of stoppage time and Celtic were still a goal to the good. However, Clegg, one of the smallest on the pitch, met a long throw at a crowded near post. His flicked header took the ball away from Bowling, who had broken the habit of a lifetime and come to meet the ball. The dozen Ashton fans behind the goal erupted in cheers of jubilation as the ball fell into the back of the Celtic net providing Ashton with a last gasp equaliser.
Celtic switched to a 4-4-2 formation for extra time with the introduction of German for Clegg (punishment for the own goal?). To prove that karma is stronger than any mere manager, German's first incident was conceding a free kick 30 yards from goal that Smith whipped in and Dormer (another extra time substitute) met unchallenged at the back post to nod into the back of the net. Again, Ashton had gone ahead.
Again, the reply from Celtic was instant. Some great interchanging play from Celtic saw Smith (now an out-and-out right winger) cut inside White, brush off Adams, pick his spot and hit the ball so hard into the bottom corner that Trueman was still falling as it nestled into the back of the net.
The game was as high paced now as the opening five minutes, but Ashton had resorted to long ball tactics: knocking the ball towards the corners and chasing after it. One such ball put Miller goal-side of German, his shot was immediate and no danger.
Hoping to make up for the conceded free kick, German brought the ball out of defence. The visitors kept baking off him until he was within shooting range. However, the shot was straight down Trueman's throat, and as he'd already proven several times, it takes a special shot to beat him.
The second period of extra time saw Miller make the miss of the game. He broke the offside trap with a well-timed run, took the ball around Bowling, but kicked the ball into the side netting.
In contrast, Celtic were missing the target with much more elaboration. Wharton one-two'd with Heald before driving a low cross through the six-yard box. Denham got a brush of studs on it, diverting the ball narrowly wide. Wharton went direct moments later, almost dislocating Allison's jaw when that was all that prevented the ball ending up in the back of the net.
A cruel blow followed. Despite the pressure, Ashton got a free kick just inside the Celtic half. A long ball over the top of the defence, Miller broke the offside trap has he had done several times already, and volleyed into the back of the net. Ashton could have then taken the game beyond Celtic's reach when a long throw found Dormer at the near post, but his glancing header was wide.
Denham still had plenty of running despite playing nearly 2 hours of football, and latched onto a poor pass between Ashton's centrebacks. One-on-one with Trueman, he rather snatched at his shot, and the ball scuttled wide. He tried again in the last minute, darting between Adams and Dyson to emerge inside the box with only Trueman to beat. Trueman made a great stop at his near post with Wharton steaming in to ensure that any dropped ball would be costly. What was costly was Celtic's third possibly penalty decision turned down. Denham's blasted shot was clearly and openly handballed by White, diverting the ball for a corner. The ball was at shoulder height and White had to raise his arm a long way to divert the ball. No penalty, just a corner for Celtic to waste. Surprisingly the corner was well taken. Trueman came and couldn't quite reach it, flapping it out to the corner of the box. Heald snapped at the instant shot, hoping to capitalise on Trueman being on the floor, but his shot cleared the bar.
The game identified in stark relief Celtic's vulnerability. Defending set pieces.
A strong centreback who knows how to organise the line needs bringing in quickly!