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Match Preview :- Barrow - Friday May 9th, 2008 (19:30:00)
Celtic have made it to their first play-off match. Having beaten Southport on penalties, we now go to Burton on Friday (kick off 7:30pm) to face flying Barrow. Barrow made it into the play-off spots with only four games to go having risen from a low point of nineteenth back in November. A sensational run of twenty-nine games with only two losses saw them rocket up the league to finish fifth. The last team to beat them was back at the end of January, and it was us, at Holker Street. For the Celtic ex-pats: there will be a score centre for this game.

In the play-off semi-final, they beat Telford 2-0 both home and away to record a 4-0 aggregate score. Indeed, their defence is something to behold (second best in the league behind Kettering), and in the last seventeen games (since we beat them), they have conceded a mere six goals, keeping eleven clean sheets in the process, with no team scoring more than one past them. In their remarkable post-Wilson run Barrow have lost two (the other was away at Burscough), and drawn eight. It made them the in-form team going into the play-offs, something that has traditionally resulted in the team winning the play-off due to the confidence coursing through the team.

The automated prediction algorithm has suggested we will lose 3-1, with Barrow continuing their unbeaten run. They have taken 87% of the points available from their last fifteen games (Celtic have taken 66%), and 90% from their last six (Celtic have taken 43%). For this reason, despite Celtic finishing three points clear of Barrow, the automated prediction algorithm is suggesting the Barrow win.

Our previous meetings with Barrow have been quite even. Over the last twenty meetings, Celtic have won seven (twice away), and Barrow have also won eight (three times away). We met in the FA Cup in 2004, and Barrow held Celtic to a draw (one of five draws between the two sides) at Holker Street, but in the replay, we beat them 3-2 at home. Our meetings this season saw Celtic held to a 2-2 draw at home, and a win in the reverse. So we are unbeaten to Barrow this season, and that must count for something.

Barrow?s top scorer this season was Matt Henney with fourteen goals, beating Nick Rogan to the Golden Boot by one goal. On average they have scored 1.7 goals per game this season and conceded 0.9 goals per game, they score their first goal on average in the forty-second minute, and concede their first in the forty-third minute. They have failed to score in just five games this season and have kept fifteen clean sheets in total. Their most dangerous period is the last quarter of an hour, when they have scored nineteen of their seventy goals, whilst the first quarter of an hour saw them concede nine of their thirty-nine conceded goals, with another ten around the hour mark.

In the second leg of Barrow?s semi-final against Telford, Barrow won 2-0, but midfielder Mark Boyd suffered an injury, and will have to be checked ahead of the final, whilst top scorer Matt Henney missed the second leg with a knee injury, but is expected to play in the final. In that match, Barrow lined up as:
1. Tim Deasy
2. Lee Woodyatt
3. Ryan Elderton
4. Paul Jones
5. Steve McNulty
6. Paul Brown
7. Andrew Bond
8. Mark Boyd
9. Jason Walker
10. Nick Rogan
11. Chris Thompson

Celtic will be sweating on the fitness of Paddy Gamble, who was injured celebrating Celtic?s first goal against Southport in the second leg. The feared broken ankle turned out to be a twisted ankle, but it still takes time to get over that kind of injury. His deputy, Martin Pearson stepped into the breach on Sunday, and became a Celtic hero with his penalty save in the shoot-out. Barrie Keeling missed the semis through cracked ribs, and will probably be unavailable, whilst Andrew Smart had to be substituted with cramp, though it is thought he?ll be fit to play on Friday.
In the 2-1 win over Southport, Celtic lined up as:
1. Paddy Gamble
2. Ashley Woolliscroft
3. Andrew Smart
4. Steve Payne
5. Terry Barwick
6. Paul Sykes
7. Steve Torpey
8. Ashley Winn
9. Chris Hall
10. Lee Ellington
11. Alex Meechan

On our day, Celtic can beat anybody in the league (except Telford and Nuneaton), so there should be no fear of Barrow?s remarkable run. We have beaten this team: we can beat them again and march on into the Conference National next season. Whatever the result though, this has been a remarkable season, and one worth applauding in every respect.
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