Celtic held their own in the first half, with a good defensive performance. The second half saw an early goal and Celtic heads dropped, ultimately resulting in Southport getting another. Southport have one of the strongest defences in the league, and it showed, with neither front men able to get a clear-cut chance. New signing Phil Hadland played well on his debut, but couldn't break through the Kilbane/Davis partnership.
Celtic saw the return of Caldecott after a long layoff and Parr and Bonsall after their shorter layoffs. Still missing were Eastwood, German, Calcutt, Denham and Whealing, but Dootson and Pearce both made it to the bench. Up front was Celtic's new signing, Phil Hadland.
Ex-Celtic fullback Fitzgerald fouled Hayward in the opening minute, but the free kick was wasted, as was the one conceded by Caldecott on Fearns at the other end moments later. The industry of Steve Smith worked a small opening in the resolute home defence, but the shot was wide. Hayward tried to work another opening but was clattered by Kilbane. This time the free kick was well worked and fell to the feet of Sykes, he tried to prod home, but an outstretched leg from Kilbane knocked the ball high into the air. Sykes and Hayward jumped for it, and somehow conspired between them to head it over the bar.
Southport looked busy, but not threatening, up front, and won a corner off Bowman. Sykes cleared unconvincingly as far as Baker whose shot was woeful. That changed when Leadbetter got into stride and outpaced Bowman to whip in a low cross for Fearns. Only a stretched out leg from Keeling diverting the ball for a corner denied the league's top striker. Parr cleared it.
Parr was clattered near the half way line by Morley, but Caldecott's free kick was awful. Southport showed how it should be done moments later from a similar position when Bowker clattered Robinson. The free kick from Fitzgerald fell to Fearns in the six-yard box and it took a superb save from Priestley to deny him.
Debutant Hadland showed his pace when he raced through the Southport defence leaving them trailing to latch onto a Hayward through ball. One-on-one he put the ball across the face of goal and wide of the mark.
It was against the run of play though, and Southport soon regained possession with Lynch trying his luck from distance and winning a corner off Sykes. Sykes headed the near post corner out for a second attempt, which was poor. Another ex-Celt, Pickford put a good ball into the box for Robinson, he headed down and somehow Celtic smuggled it around the post for a corner.
Some patient build up play from Celtic eventually saw Hadland twist and turn his way into a cul-de-sac in the Southport box, and pulled the ball back for Hayward. Hayward saw Caldecott racing in and put the ball into his path, the fullback lashed at his shot and put it over the bar.
Southport finished the stronger. Pickford put another ball into the box, it looked like a simple catch for Priestley, but he spilled it into the path of Fearns. Fearns was going away from goal and Celtic regrouped to defend strongly. Not something they did when Baker slid a perfect ball through the defence for Fearns. Bowker did really well to get back and block the shot allowing Priestley a simple catch. Robinson lobbed a ball over the defence and Sykes had to back-peddle to head over his own bar with the half drawing to a close, a foul in the box saw Celtic take a free kick and a goalless draw into the dressing room.
It wasn't Celtic that struggled to get out of the dressing room in the second half: it was the linesman. Fearns was a good fifteen yards offside when a ball was played through to him. He was so surprised that he dallied on the ball allowing Keeling to come racing in and block the shot to put it out for a corner with the linesman still struggling to get to the Celtic end of the field. With no offside flag the corner was given and Fearns received the ball off the corner and prodded it towards goal.
Caldecott got more than a touch as his clearance sliced into the roof of the net, through the goal was given to Fearns. Heads throughout the Celtic team collectively dropped, and any chance we had of getting anything vanished. Southport's confidence went through the roof.
Priestley kept Celtic within touching distance with another great performance. Shortly after conceding the goal, Baker powerfully headed a long throw and though he'd misjudged the flight, Priestley brought his trailing arm around to collect the ball. More practice came seconds later when Fearns pulled the ball back for Leadbetter, and Priestley scooped up the weak drive.
Celtic were given a chance to create something when Morley fouled Steve Smith forty yards out, but the free kick was straight to Dickinson who'd had nothing to do all afternoon. Hadland then made some space, but Kilbane deflected his cross for a corner, and again there was no bite from the set piece as Southport easily cleared.
Southport were finding plenty of holes in the Celtic defence, and Baker found another when he slid the ball through to Lynch stood unmarked at the edge of the box, but his shot was over the bar. A rash challenge from Sykes on Kilbane saw some locking horns between Sykes and Pickford who had rushed over to get involved. For the touching of foreheads, both Sykes and Pickford were carded.
From the free kick Parr headed for a corner. When the corner fell to Pickford, it was Parr who got a leg in the way, forcing Priestley into a great acrobatic save to tip the ball over the bar. Kilbane escaped punishment when from the corner his strong elbow to the ribs of Keeling went unnoticed until the press of players parted. The game stopped, but Bowman soon gave them another chance from a corner when a very poor back pass left Priestley no hope of reaching the ball and it went for a corner. Caldecott cleared, but it was the final straw and Bonsall and Ben Smith replaced him and Steve Smith. Celtic changed to a 3-5-2 formation.
Hadland was chasing lost causes all match, and from one he won a corner off Kilbane. The near post corner was put out for a second corner, which Dickinson caught.
Robinson wasn't as lucky as Kilbane, when his elbow against Bowker was seen he was cautioned. The free kick was almost immediately given away as Bowker couldn't control the pass allowing Leadbetter to race into the box; he hurdled Bowker's penalty inducing challenge, and shot over the bar. Southport earned their third card of the match when Fearns raced into clear space with the Celtic defence trailing. Caldecott's electric pace got him across the pitch wand allowed him to rob Fearns. Cynically Fearns hacked Caldecott down, and though Caldecott's fall was somewhat theatrical, Fearns was cautioned.
Celtic had not learned from this, and Fearns was again played into space and left one-on-one with Priestley. If you put a goal in front of Terry Fearns, he'll put a ball in it. He slotted the ball past Priestley to double the lead.
Southport's fourth yellow card came near the end of the game, and it should have been a straight red. After losing out in a challenge to Caldecott, Robinson stamped on Caldecott's instep leaving the Celtic left-back lying on the floor in agony. The stretcher and leg cast were brought on while Robinson was cautioned. Connor replaced Caldecott and immediately, Celtic looked more solid at the back, and despite only being five minutes left, Southport never looked like breaching the defence again.
Celtic were poor in this match, and in the return leg in a week, it would appear off this performance that Southport will be taking a maximum six off Celtic and starting their New Year off as the old one finished.