Though the GLS Cup is more of a distraction than a necessity, the win in this game was useful in a number of respects, not least because it kept Celticís unbeaten run going ahead of the crucial games coming up for Celtic in the league.
Both sides fielded fairly strong teams, with Celtic giving a run out to Calcutt, Eastwood, Pearce and Wilford to get some games under their belts. Black was rested with Bowker playing in the right back position, whilst junior keeper Whitworth took the place of Robinson on the bench.
Bradfordís team was virtually identical to the one that Celtic had beaten a fortnight before, and they obviously wanted to go for a win at Bower Fold, as they had earlier in the season. To this end they started quickly and it took a smart challenge from Whealing on a Craig Smith cross, in the opening minutes to deny Noukba an opening at the expense of a corner. Pearce cleared fairly comfortably.
Hadland had been moved to the left wing for this game as Celtic played a 4-3-2 formation, and his running and layoff to Wharton exposed a huge gap in the centre of the Bradford defence. Wharton struck the ball sweetly and produced a good save from Britton in the visiting goal. Bowker got up the other side well and put a good cross in for Wilford. Wilfordís header lacked any real power and Britton caught comfortably, but it was a sign that Celtic were gaining the upper hand early in the first half.
Dootson wouldnít have much to do during the game, mainly collecting loose balls in the box, but early on he had to be quick as Lennon tried to bustle his way past Sykes, Whealing and Wharton only to find Dootson collecting the ball at his feet. Oleksewycz then tried his luck from way out, but his shot was wayward and over.
Bradford were playing a physical game and Clayton was lucky to escape without a caution when his scything tackle took out Calcutt in full flight as the winger raced along the touchline. The free kick was taken short to Eastwood, but Holland charged down the shot at the expense of a corner. Pearce didnít get a good contact, but Calcutt retrieved and won a corner out of Holland that Celtic wasted. Eastwood soon received the ball back off Bonsall, but though his first touch was good enough to make space between Jones and Holland, the final shot was disappointing and an easy catch for Britton.
Eastwood again showed a nice touch and turn to get past Noukba. Noukba responded by bear-hugging Eastwood and conceding a free kick right on the edge of the box. The free kick was excellent from Wharton finding Calcutt unmarked at the back post, but the Celtic man was unlucky with his header putting it just wide.
Clayton again risked a booking as Bowker raced past him on the wing, only to be tripped from behind. Eastwood and Jones challenged for the free kick, spinning the ball into the air, and Wilford headed it down, but Britton was well placed to make the save. Bowker had been hurt in the challenge, but played on, and headed Hollandís cross out for corner. Keeling was brought on to replace the injured Bowker, and immediately headed the ball onto the crossbar and Sykes pushed it out for a second corner that Dootson caught.
Down the other end, Keeling fed the ball along the line for Calcutt, as he tried to cut inside Clayton, the Avenue defender put the ball out for a corner to Celtic. The corner was cleared, but not for long, as Keeling again fed the ball to Calcutt with a perfectly weighted ball that carried Calcutt past Clayton allowing him to whip a superb cross to the back post. Eastwood got a good contact heading the ball onto the crossbar and with Britton well out of position Wilford stooped and headed the ball into the back of the net in a true goal-poacherís goal.
Clayton again scythed down a player, this time Calcutt. The free kick to the back post was struck well by Sykes, but the referee adjudged him to have impeded Jones in the process. Not to be held back, Calcutt won a corner out of Wray trying to jink his way into the box. The corner was well worked, with Wharton squaring it to Eastwood who struck his shot sweetly, only for Britton to tip it over the bar. Bonsall and Lennon challenged for the corner, with Lennon winning out.
The second half started with Celtic continuing to attack as they had in the first half. Whealingís excellent cross was met by a powerful header from Eastwood, but it was just wide.
Celtic started holding back a little as the half got properly into motion, and it took a sliding tackle from Sykes to stop Lennon at the expense of a corner. Wharton headed away from goal, and Calcutt hoofed it clear.
Eastwood gave way to Steve Smith as Celtic dropped into 4-4-2 formation. Steve Smithís battling allowed him to feed the ball to Wilford. Wilfordís shot was charged down by Jones, ricocheting out to Wharton who saw the defence part before him. He didnít need asking twice and from distance struck a wonderful shot that smacked into the crossbar and was put out for a corner by Noukba. Wilford apparently used Wray as a springboard, and the corner ended with a free kick.
Bradford were struggling to breach the Celtic back line, so if they had any chance it would come from a set piece. When Sykes tripped Greaves forty yards out it was a good chance for them, but the free kick was poor, and Keeling cleared. Moments later though, Whealing handed them another chance conceding a corner stopping Hollandís mazy run. Bonsall headed out the near post corner, but Jones knocked it straight back in. Noukbaís close range shot produced a superb stop from Dootson.
After Wharton had allegedly fouled Lennon by the dugouts, Lennon swung at Wharton. Quick to anger, Wharton retaliated, and soon also had Jones to deal with before the two teams converged and pulled the warring trio apart. The referee would have been in his rights to issue red cards to the three of them, but instead issued yellow cards.
Bradfordís free kick when it eventually came was very poor.
Wilford continued to get into good positions, and got his head onto a Wharton cross, but lacked the power to trouble Britton. Ben Smith was brought on for Calcutt, and immediately got involved in the resurgent Celtic performance. He brought the ball inside Clayton and found Hadland on the edge of the box with a nice pass. Hadland turned and shot, straight at Britton. Hadland got even closer moments later when he and Ben Smith were put through the high Bradford line by an intelligent ball from Bonsall to both bear down on goal. Smith had been doing the running, but as Britton was drawn toward him, he knocked the ball sideways to Hadland who struck the ball first time and failed to get on the score sheet only because of a superb save from Britton. The rebound came out to Whealing who knocked it over the returning defence, but Hadland couldnít divert it far enough to put it into the net.
Wilford acted as a lynch pin in the Celtic front line. He laid a perfect ball into the path of Steve Smith who struck his shot first time, and found Britton again on top form, catching the shot.
Hadland picked up the ball forty yards out and was in full flight, about to enter the box, when Noukba sliced him down maliciously with no attempt to play the ball, earning a yellow card and conceding a free kick right on the edge of the box. Ben Smith took the free kick, curling it around the wall only to find Britton again in sparkling form tipping the ball over the cross bar when a goal looked certain. The corner was cleared.
With only stoppage time remaining, Bradford made a double substitution bringing on Cowbroulth and Shutt for Noukba and Clayton, but there was no time for them to have any impact on the game and Celtic go through to the next round to face Halifax at Bower Fold.
This was a solid defensive performance from Celtic, and the Sykes, Pearce partnership looks like to developing into a solid central defensive pairing. Dootson had very little to do and both Whealing and Bowker then Keeling had the freedom to get forward. There was plenty of nouse and height between them that allowed them to deal with everything Bradford had to offer.
Another performance like that, against a lesser keeper will result in a landslide win. It turned into the perfect warm up game ahead of the crucial league clashes with Ashton and Moor Green next week.