Match Report -
Into the teeth of a gale
By Debbie Taylor

Celtic are mired at the bottom of the table despite a second half comeback that was good, but not good enough. Against Southport, one of the best defences in the league, Celtic found the net three times, but with Southport finding it five times, there was nothing to be gained from the goals.

In terrible first half conditions, it was Southport who adapted fastest. Leadbetter picked up the ball almost from the off, raced through a defence consisting of centrebacks, one on one with Priestley, he grabbed an early goal that demoralised the Celtic team and allowed Fearns an opportunity that Hadland charged down allowing Priestley an easy catch. Priestley was beaten soon after when Robinson headed Baker's cross toward goal, but Wharton was on the line to head clear.

Celtic were reduced to set-piece efforts in the first half, with an offside ball lobbed into the box by Bowker. New signing Adams nodded the ball down to Parr who squared the ball to Hayward, but the striker's shot on the turn was wide. Pickford fouled Hadland on the halfway line, and the free kick again caused problems for the Southport defence, with Dickinson having to react and move quickly to get across and collect the ball ahead of the stooping Hayward.

Keeling intercepted a throw as Southport advanced with the wind at their backs, putting the ball out for a corner. Celtic's other new signing, Kangana put it out for a second corner, which Wharton intercepted. The danger wasn't gone, as Sykes fouled Baker, but Parr cleared.

Parr was then fouled on the halfway line by Morley, and the free kick eventually came to Bonsall who struck a sweet shot on the turn, but wide. Celtic got another chance, when Kilbane climbed all over Hadland on the half way line, but Wharton's free kick was easily cleared and resulted in Kangana holding Robinson (for which he got a yellow card). Kangana made amends by nodding the free kick out for a corner. Bowker got his head on the ball first for a second corner.

Southport's second was indicative of Celtic's defending of set pieces this season. Nobody went to pick up Baker at the corner of the box, the corner was low to him, and he smashed it into the top corner with the Celtic team left to watch.

Celtic came back straight away, with Wharton winning a corner out of Kilbane. Lynch's clearance struck Kangana and went for a goal kick.

Celtic then shot themselves in the foot when Pickford's whipped in cross was met by the diving head of Keeling, but his glancing header served only to put the ball beyond Priestley's reach and into the back of the net. Celtic looked hunched in the wind and rain, whilst Southport looked full of confidence after the killer goal. Baker tried to capitalise racing through the Celtic defence, but Keeling kept up with him, and when the shot came it was weak and straight at Priestley.

Fitzgerald's whipped in cross was headed clear by Kangana, but fell sweetly for Pickford, whose shot was arrow straight, at Priestley, from distance. Wharton fouled Baker as he tried to run past the Celtic man, and Kangana's header again fell to Pickford, whose cross back in to the back post was met by the head of Lynch, but Priestley was well positioned and caught. First Kangana and then Bonsall fouled him, both about thirty-five yards out, the second free kick was lobbed into the box by Baker, and Priestley caught well.

It was getting to the point where Celtic fans were praying for the already Biblical downpour to get heavier still. As the penalty boxes flooded and the corner flags subsided in the mud, the huddled Celtic faithful wanted the match abandoned to end their misery. But the game continued, and Robinson's shot looked to be going wide, until Fearns slid in and would have scored had the ball not stuck in the mud allowing Priestley to scoop it up.

Celtic nearly grabbed one back with minutes left when Bonsall's cross in was missed by Dickinson and nearly fell for Parr, but Davis headed off the line. Dave German was introduced just before the half time whistle, replacing Kangana who was struggling to adapt to the conditions, and looked to be cruising for a second yellow card. German almost had an instant impact with his cross in causing until problems for Dickinson who seemed unable to catch the ball and eventually just fell on it under pressure from Wharton. Right at the death of the half, the best chance of the game fell to Hayward. Sykes' pinpoint cross was right onto his feet, but Hayward couldn't untangle his legs and despite having a clear site of goal, had to try and lay it off for Hadland, and the ball was cleared.

During the interval the weather cleared, the rain stopped and any chance of getting the game abandoned vanished. If Celtic were to have any chance now, they would have to grab an early goal. Celtic came out all guns blazing, and Hadland's powerful shot was blocked, back to Adams who had moved up front, but his shot was blocked. It fell to Wharton, and Davis put his shot out for a corner. Wharton's corner was delivered to the head of Adams, and he did what no other Celtic player has done this season, and headed the ball into the back of the net.

Celtic had got the start to the second half that they needed.

After slipping, Hayward still had the presence of mind to slice a ball into the box for Adams and Hadland, but the arm of Kilbane got in the way, no penalty given, but Bonsall latched onto the clearance from Kilbane and won a free kick just outside the box. The corner was blocked on route to goal falling to Wharton who tried to slide it through the six-yard box, but it was just beyond Adams' foot.

Kilbane then fouled Wharton just inside the centre circle, and the free kick was knocked away from Hadland by the arm of Davis, again no penalty, but a corner this time, which Dickinson punched clear. Wharton put it back in and Southport looked all at sea in the box, somehow scrambling the ball clear. The pressure hadn't gone, and Davis fouled Wharton just outside the box moments later. Wharton took the kick himself, sending it just over the bar.

Despite the Celtic pressure, they then literally gave Southport a goal. Leadbetter latched onto a poor pass and took it down the field, Priestley slipped in the mud and Leadbetter grabbed his second of the afternoon.

Celtic were still buoyed by their goal though, and with the weather no longer a factor, looked the stronger team. Hadland tried to go around Davis, and succeeded in winning a corner. The corner was poor, but Sykes won another go out of Pickford, and Dickinson palmed it clear, but not out of danger, forcing another mad scramble in the mud bath resulting in Morley sticking it out for a third corner that Kilbane cleared. Morley kept the pressure on Southport by fouling Sykes, and Wharton's free kick found Sykes at the back post, but Lynch was able to block on the line, clearing the danger properly.

Hadland brought the ball down the flank and as he cut inside Pickford, the ex-Celtic player quite blatantly brought Hadland down by the corner flag, but nothing was given.

Celtic were hit on the break by the dangerous Fearns, who muscled his way through the defence and struck a good shot beyond the reach of Priestley. It careered off the post to Leadbetter who fed the ball to Baker just inside the box and his shot was blasted into the back of the net with a clinical finish.

With the game clearly over, Celtic relaxed, and produced a stunning finale to the game. Steve Smith, brought on for the goal-scorer Adams (who strained his hamstring), jinked his way into a striking position and his powerful shot ricocheted off Davis' unwitting backside for a corner. Again Southport struggled to clear with Lynch getting the final touch to send the ball out of the box.

Keeling conceded a corner, which Bonsall cleared, but Southport still kept coming, and Fearns broke through to clear water and had a shot from just inside the box, which Priestley caught quite comfortably.

Pickford fouled Steve Smith after Smith bamboozled him. Wharton's free kick was a dangerous curler, both Bowker and Parr got a touch, with Bowker just getting the last touch. Strangely, the official verdict was an own goal by Davis! Celtic hadn't finished yet, and played the ball around Southport's players, with Ben Smith on for Sykes, there was another pacey outlet. It was Ben Smith who laid the ball off to Wharton, who neatly avoided the dangerous slide from Kilbane, and curled the ball over Dickinson and into the back of net.

Parr nearly grabbed another back as Hayward held off Lynch long enough to slide it to the Celtic captain. The shot was good, but just wide. Ben Smith then went on a mazy run and at the edge of the box tried to curl it into the top corner, Fitzgerald got his head on the ball, and put the ball out for what should have been a corner, but what was given as a goal kick. Celtic did get a corner when Keeling put a cross in that Davis headed out. The corner almost fell for Ben Smith, but stuck in the mud and Lynch cleared. Lynch fouled Steve Smith on the half way line, and the short free kick was put to the back post by Ben Smith, with Dickinson claiming off the head of Hadland.

Southport tried to run the clock down by holding the ball in the corner, it looked like Fearns was illegally holding off Keeling, but Keeling conceded the corner. The corner was cleared as far as Fearns, and his shot hit the bar on the way out. Southport again tried to hit Celtic on the break, with Fearns getting beyond the defence. Priestley made himself big, but slipped as Fearns dummied his shot. When the shot came, it was cleared off the line by German.

Ben Smith could have reduced the deficit to just one goal with the last attack of the game. He skipped along the edge of the box, evading tackle after tackle until he found the gap he needed, but his shot was just wide of the mark and the deficit stayed at two goals.

Celtic's second half performance was immeasurably better than their first half, and it could be put down to the fact that Southport adapted to the ferocious conditions much better than the home side. There are many ifs and buts, but Celtic now have to put together a consistent set of results in the second half of the season if they are to have any chance. The second half performance against the league leaders shows promise, but that promise has to be born out.

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