Celtic moved to within two wins off safety with something of a smash and grab at Hurst Cross. It took bit of luck and the best keeper in the league, but Celtic swapped places with the hosts to move third from bottom.
It started well enough, with Hayward easily beating the home offside trap to go one-on-one with Trueman in the home nets. Hayward dithered, and then tried to take the ball around Trueman, but the Ashton keeper did well to claw the ball off Hayward's feet. Thackeray was something of a liability for the home side, and Wharton forced him to giving Celtic an early corner. Fortunately, White was on top form, easily clearing the header.
Then it started to go disastrously wrong. First Sykes conceded a corner stopping Dolan, which Dootson punched out as far as Carden who had the opening to try his luck from distance, but shot well wide. No such luck when Steve Smith lost out in the middle of the park to the man who replaced him, Fleury. Fleury's quick thinking pierced the Celtic defence, leaving Dootson exposed at the back and Garvey racing through. Dootson stood up well, but it was a good shot, instinctive and at just the right time.
Such was the success of the move, that less than a minute later, Ashton repeated the trick, Shepherd played Garvey just onside for a ball over the defence, and Garvey was again one-on-one with Dootson with the same result.
The old Celtic would have rolled over at this point. The new Celtic did not. The introduction of Shepherd into the back line has obviously disrupted the flow, but it soon settled down (it was unfortunate that two goals had gone in during this period). And up front, goal-machine Wilford was sniffing for his third goal in three games. It almost fell to him when Hayward nodded down a Steve Smith cross. Wilford turned and shot, the ball deflecting unluckily off Clee for a corner. Sykes got his foot on quite a poor corner, and put it out for a goal kick.
It looked at the start like Celtic's usual luck would be in full force. Just as they were beginning to get hold of the game, a clearance from Shepherd struck Keeling in the face, leaving him prostrate. The rebound fell kindly for Dolan, who tried to put Garvey through for his hat trick, but there was just too much weight on it, and Dootson claimed and put the ball out so Keeling could receive treatment for his head injury.
Celtic continued to probe for an opening at the other end. Hayward nodded Keeling's ball down to Wilford who was swamped by defenders but somehow managed to lift the ball over them back to Hayward. Hayward was robbed in the air at the last second by Thackeray hurling himself at the ball, it could have gone anywhere, and it went for a corner. The corner was cleared as far as Steve Smith, who scuffed his shot wide. The Ashton defence was solid for the most part of the first half, evidenced by a good header from White to deny Wilford after a great ball in from Hayward almost set him up.
But it was not all about Celtic, with Ashton looking for the killer goal that really would have won them the game. Carden robbed Sykes and Shepherd missed the tackle, with Sykes coming back, Carden tried his luck from outside the box, and it took a great stop from Dootson to deny him.
Ashton were not able to breach the offside trap like they had in the opening minutes, and from one offside free kick, Dootson pumped the ball into the box. Good control from Hayward allowed him to lay off perfectly to Wilford, who took a touch and blasted the ball narrowly wide. He was getting closer.
Wilford wasn't the only one getting closer. When a ball from Whealing evaded Wilford it fell to Steve Smith who struck a top-corner shot that Clee somehow got in the way of, putting the ball out for a corner. From the throw, Hayward won a corner off Thackeray. Celtic couldn't convert, but Steve Smith managed to win a corner out of Clee on the other side. Trueman came through a crowd to claim the corner well.
The danger wasn't gone, as Johnson fouled Wilford ten yards from the box. Again though, a good shout from Trueman coming through the crowd and claiming. An example of the desperate defending came when Wilford put Bonsall into the box. It took seven defenders to block Bonsall's route to goal, swarming all over him, he vanished in a sea of red and white.
Somewhat on the break, Fleury's lump into the box gave Ashton a corner when Wharton intercepted. Celtic couldn't clear the corner properly but it eventually fell to Thackeray who shot slowly straight at Dootson.
Had Celtic gone into the dressing room at 2-0, then Ashton would have won the game. But ex-Robin Steve Smith and goal-machine Wilford had other ideas. Smith crossed a bending cross into the box between defenders and keeper. Wilford stooped and diverted the ball past the keeper with a fine example of the art of heading.
Suddenly Celtic's position didn't look hopeless. Smith tried to take Celtic in level as the half began to disappear. A very poor clearance from Allison spooned right into his path; he didn't hesitate, shooting immediately and over the bar. Whealing got forward and put a cross in for Wilford to equalise, but Johnson got his head on it, heading over his own bar for a corner. Again, Trueman claimed to keep the slender advantage.
There is a saying in football that 2-1 is a dangerous lead to hold. The second half would certainly prove that statement true.
Celtic continued to look for an equaliser, eventually winning a corner out of Allison off a throw-in. Calcutt, on for Steve Smith, took the corner delivering it to Hayward. He scuffed his initial shot but got a second chance, but by now Trueman had got across well to smother at his feet. Allison allowed the Celtic pressure to continue with a deliberate handball. Stupidly, he kicked the ball away and earned a yellow card.
From the free kick, Calcutt delivered the ball to Wharton, who blasted it towards goal finding Trueman in top form to block. The ball fell to Hayward, but Trueman lifted himself miraculously off the floor to punch the ball over the bar in a fantastic double save. All through the first half, Trueman had come through a crowd to claim corners, but this time, he shouted and his defenders held off, but the crowd was too dense, and he couldn't make it. Bonsall could and his header was powerful and accurate straight into the top corner. Celtic had exactly what they needed, an early goal to level the scores.
Celtic were now hunting for a winner. Wilford almost supplied it to Hayward, sliding the ball past the defence and only a last-ditch tackle from Thackeray denied him at the expense of a corner. The corner was wasted, but Johnson allowed Celtic to keep the pressure on, as Hayward was trying to shield the ball, Johnson slid through Hayward, right on the edge of the box. Johnson got a yellow card, and Wharton squandered the free kick.
Ashton had it all to do again, but the Celtic defence was holding much firmer now. Sykes slid in to dispossess Carden at the expense of a corner, and then it was Sykes who cleared the corner. Ashton were getting back into the game though, and Carden squared the ball to Garvey some ten yards outside the Celtic box, and his first time shot was well struck, but sailed over the bar. Dolan's ball in from the wing evaded Dootson, but it didn't evade Whealing on the line as he hooked the ball clear. Ashton were having the majority of the play and it took a top class save from Dootson to keep the scores level when Garvey nodded the ball back to Hardy at close range he tried to side foot the ball in, and Dootson did incredibly well to get down and smother the shot.
Garvey beat the offside trap for the first time since the Ashton goals, but Sykes tracked back well and slid in to put the ball out for a corner. Wharton at the near post sliced his clearance and again Whealing was on the line to head clear and spare Wharton's blushes. Unseen by the referee when Wharton took the ball off Clee, Clee punched Wharton. Hardy then avoided a yellow card after sliding through the back of Whealing, as he was immediately substituted whilst the referee was talking to his linesman. It was a sign that Ashton were getting nervous.
From the free kick, Wilford trapped Dootson's punt well, turning and shooting over the bar. Once again it looked as though luck had deserted Celtic when a Keeling clearance struck the referee and fell kindly to Garvey who raced into the box with no offside trap to beat. Dootson was very brave collecting the ball at Garvey's feet. O'Leary-Jones had been brought on for Hardy, and his first involvement in the game was to clatter Shepherd, and concede a free kick, escaping with just a warning.
Ben Smith was brought on for Wharton, and his first touch was to stick the ball in the back of the net after Wilford had flicked a Calcutt cross onto him. However, it was ruled off because he'd had to clamber around Thackeray to reach the ball.
With the game rapidly approaching its conclusion Garvey robbed Sykes and raced one-on-one with Dootson. Dootson palmed the shot away, but it fell to Fleury who squared to O'Leary-Jones. With Dootson still getting to his feet it fell to debutant Shepherd to head over his own bar off the line. The corner was cleared as far as Dolan. His ball back in was punched by Dootson to Calcutt who brought the ball out and tried to set Black off on an overlap run, but Doan slid in from behind flattening Black.
Wilford won a corner out of Clee with only seconds left on normal time, and Trueman claimed the corner well. However Trueman undid all his hard work by throwing the ball out to Clee. Clee had his back to goal; it rebounded off him to Ben Smith's feet. Ben Smith didn't hesitate, with Trueman well out of position; he tried his luck from forty yards, aiming for the top corner.
It looked like the shot would go wide until Johnson got his head on the ball, diverting it into his own net. The scenes of jubilation were echoed around the terraces where the large number of Celtic faithful were gathered. It was a good header! Celtic were suddenly rampant. Wilford jinked his way towards the box and right on the edge of the box White scythed him down. Shepherd took the free kick, which struck the wall and went for a corner deep into stoppage time. Ben Smith and Hadland tried to keep it in the corner, but Ashton did well, with Clee knocking it off Hadland for a goal kick. Smith complained about the decision, and got a yellow card. As the goal kick sailed down the pitch, the referee blew for full time, and Celtic had completed an unlikely comeback.
Celtic didn't play at all well. They never do at Hurst Cross, but to play badly and comeback from two goals shows that Celtic can survive in this league. John Reed erupted off the bench at the whistle to celebrate with the travelling fans, showing just how much the win meant to him, too. Admittedly, Ashton deserved at least a point from the game, but Celtic swapped places with them instead, setting up a cracker of a game against another relegation prospect, Moor Green at Bower Fold on Tuesday.