Tamworth came into the game sitting proudly at the top of the league, boasting an unbeaten away record, and from the off it was obvious to those Celtic fans who witnessed a great 3-0 away win back in August that Tamworth were not the same team beaten by Celtic that night.
Starting down the hill, and with a strong wind behind them, Tamworth got straight into their stride, with captain Martin Foster and the lively Bradley Pritchard taking early control of the midfield ? Celtic struggled to keep up with the Lamb?s slick passing and movement from midfield to attack, but they also had the more direct weapon of Langdon?s long throws from Tamworth?s left, causing early trouble for Celtic?s defence, with Tom Sharpe back along side Rhys Meynell in the centre. In fact Tamworth thought they had scored from a header from one of Langdon?s throws, but the referee rightly saw the foul on Philips ? much the busier keeper in the early stages.
Despite Tamworth?s early dominance in midfield, Celtic?s latest back four of Battersby, Sharpe, Meynell and Smart managed to just about weather the storm ? on the flanks, Rodman and Wright looked dangerous for Tamworth although Andy Smart was looking back to his best at left back, coping well with Wright, the new England C squad member, and once he started to get forward as well, with Battersby doing the same on the right, helped by Platt, Celtic gradually started to work some openings of their own, and forced a couple of corners.
With 17 minutes gone, and undoubtedly against the run of play, Andy Smart struck a vicious, inswinging corner and Will Puddy in the Tamworth goal, back in the team only due to the suspension of the more recent number one, made a bit of a hash of it and watched helplessly as the ball flew into the far corner, silencing the Lambs and their noisy little drummer boy behind the goal.
The goal brought Celtic to life, with an end-to end feel about it, with Rodman hitting a good shot straight at Philips and Torpey immediately having an ambitious long range chip sail over the Tamworth bar. A minute later Ellington was penalised unfairly whilst about to get through on the nervous looking Puddy, and a foul on Torpey by Foster led to another corner and another incorrect decision by the referee as he penalised Joynes for a brave challenge on Lyttle that unfortunately led to the ex Notts Forest defender having to leave the pitch on a stretcher, to be replaced by Burgess.
Tamworth were still in control of the centre of midfield ? Platt was linking well with Battersby and becoming more involved, but Celtic?s better work continued to come down the flanks rather than through the middle, and Tamworth always looked likely to get back into the game, which they did after 31 minutes when Celtic failed to clear the ball and Smith beat Philips to find the corner with a well struck shot from just inside the area. Neither team changed their approach after the goal ? Tamworth?s front men continued to look lively, but at the other end Celtic continued to find openings, Barwick trying to remind Puddy of his early season wonder goal from long range and Platt volleying just wide from Ellington?s lay-off.
With half time approaching, Briggs showed his frustration at a questionable decision by the referee and was booked for dissent, and from the free kick Rodman had a shooting opportunity for Tamworth, but shot over. Steve Torpey then found himself with possibly Celtic?s best chance of the half but with Puddy out of position and the goal gaping the referee infuriated the home fans as he decided to penalise Joynes for his challenge on the keeper. Celtic continued to press and the booking seemed to improve Briggs as he got more involved, winning a free kick 10 yards outside the opponent?s box ? Andy Smart?s free kick being charged down.
One apiece at half time, and both teams had reason to go in at the interval feeling satisfied with their efforts.
There was a buzz around Bower Fold at half time ? a real expectation of what was to follow in the second half, and the fans were not to be disappointed. Tamworth came out strongly, just as they had done in the first half, not allowing the wind to bother their passing game, with Pritchard impressing in midfield with his intelligent link play and movement. But Celtic were very much in this game and continued to cause Tamworth difficulties of their own, with Briggs having a shot well saved by Puddy in the 50th minute, and both Barwick and Platt linking up well with the attack from midfield.
Rodman had a good chance for Tamworth, with Philips needing to get down to his left to push the ball around the post and from the corner Terry Barwick saved a certain goal from a good Tamworth header by somehow getting the ball up onto the bar and away to safety ? a let-off for Celtic. A couple of minutes later the ever dangerous Rodman combined well with Wright but again his shot was too high. Tamworth seemed to be taking control of midfield again and with Celtic lacking width of their own it was a struggle for Barwick and Briggs to keep the excellent Foster and Pritchard quiet ? and after 67 minutes Pritchard worked a clever one-two and made no mistake with a cool finish as he found himself through on goal. Tamworth probably deserved to be ahead and their fans got louder as Wright had another good run and shot blocked (just before being replaced with Sheridan), and then Sheldon found himself one against one with Meynell but his shot was just over.
Celtic hadn?t given up and Steve Burr decided to make a few changes ? off came Barwick (who had taken a knock) and Ellington and on went Chris Williams and Matty Barlow to try and add a bit of width and pace to the attack. Nathan Joynes had been a handful for Tamworth?s defence all afternoon without much luck, and when he won a free kick just outside the box after 75 minutes the home fans knew that Torpey or Andy Smart would fancy their chances ? the referee refused to move the Tamworth back more than 6 or 7 yards but Smarty didn?t care, unleashing an unstoppable shot into the corner to bring Celtic level again.
Both sides could have settled for a draw at this point, but it wasn?t that sort of game ? both sides were still chasing the three points and Celtic made a further change, taking off the impressive Platt for the fresh legs and skill of Wilkinson. Sheldon had another good attempt deflected over for a corner after a mistake by Meynell, whilst at the other end Matty Barlow forced a mistake out of the Tamworth defence and made a good chance for Torpey, but his shot was straight at Puddy with the home crowd expecting one of his trademark screamers ? two minutes later a high looping cross from Williams was headed back across goal by Joynes and with Puddy stranded and the goal wide open Torpey failed to make proper contact with his header and, like everybody else in the ground, couldn?t believe he hadn?t scored.
The final few minutes carried on in the same vein with both sides pressing for the winner but neither making another clearcut chance, and when the final whistle went both sides had to be relatively happy to share the spoils. For Celtic it was a solid and determined performance, and a courageous fightback which bodes well for the weeks ahead. Tamworth are undoubtedly a quality side and will be hard to shift from top spot, but Celtic need to take confidence from giving them a tough game and being so close to taking all three points at the end.
|2||Lyttle, Des||> 25|
|7||Wright, Nick||> 71|
|12||Burgess, Callum||< 25|
|16||Sheridan, Jake||< 71|