Alfreton showed that they are rightly topping the table, but Celtic's youthful team did not let this faze them, and stood their ground. With Tim Ryan playing out of his skin, the backline looked as strong as it has this season. Behind them, Jan Budtz had his best game in a Celtic shirt, denying Liam Hearn in the opening five minutes from a superb free kick that curled with pace around the wall, whilst Anton Brown's thirty-five swerving, dipping shot had Budtz flying across the face to tip the ball over the bar. Celtic had chances, with Craig Hobson trying to turn Phil Marsh's low cross into goal, but without the power to beat Paddy Gamble in the Alfreton goals, and unleashing a rocket of a shot that Gamble was glad to see fly past the upright. A lay off from Greg Wilkinson gave Hobson another chance as he tried to roll it past Gamble, but the Alfreton keeper was alert and agile.
As the half looked to be finishing goalless, Celtic upped the tempo, and a great move that saw play switched, Connor Jennings flicking the ball into the path of Glen Rule who provided a striker's finish with a curling shot past the outstretched palm of Gamble that smacked the post and came back to him. It was too high to control, and he lofted the rebound over the bar. From a corner, Greg Wilkinson's drive off a one-two with Phil Marsh curled just beyond the far post, with Rule again arriving, but unable to provide a touch to finish.
Celtic went ahead as Alfreton struggled to clear a free kick from Wilkinson into the box, and Phil Marsh was there to lay off for central defender Kristian Platt, who drilled a low shot through a crowd and into the bottom corner beyond Gamble.
Celtic knew that there would be pressure in the second half, but from the off, it was Celtic who came the closest in the opening exchanges with Hobson laying off Marsh who struck first time only for Gamble to be perfectly positioned. After Anton Brown had produced another spectacular save from Jan Budtz, Hobson's effort from the corner of the box that Aden Flint blocked for a corner, and Gamble was there to catch Tim Ryan's header. Ryan belied his years when he got back to the other end to block Hearn's cross at the expense of a corner.
Alfreton pressure continued to mount, and they won corner after corner, and lofted ball after ball into the box from throws and set pieces. Connor Jennings forced into a flying header over his own bar, and it looked like they might just hold on.
Ten minutes to go in the game, Liam Hearn evaded tackles from Andy McWilliams, Ryan and Platt before getting eight yards from goal and smashing an unstoppable shot past Budtz into the top corner to bring the home side level. With Celtic having made substitutions to make them more defensive, and Alfreton having gone more attacking, it looked ominous.
Substitute Lloyd Ellams almost got an instant response, but his header from Wilkinson's free kick lacked the power to trouble Gamble, but moments later he was handed a glorious chance as Lee Elam laid off to him to run one-on-one with Gamble. The former Celtic keeper stood up well, and blocked both Ellams's initial close range blast and the shot from the rebound. If Alfreton had their keeper to thank in the dying minutes of ordinary time, so did Celtic, when Jan Budtz managed to tip Anton Brown's drive over his bar, and Aden Flint nodded the corner wide to force the game into extra time.
The first period of extra time saw intense pressure from Alfreton, Platt was called upon to block Chris Hall's shot, and Anthony Howell saw Budtz continue his impressive form to push the ball over his crossbar, and end the first period as it had started at 1-1. Celtic started the second period and immediately it was obvious that Alfreton were running out of steam. Substitute Adam Kay ran at the Alfreton defence, who were slower to react, and were fortunate when his skimming shot flashed wide. They were even more fortunate when Greg Wilkinson's thirty yard dipping half volley smashed against the bar and came out. Celtic were looking stronger and stronger, and when Andy McWilliams put a diagonal ball across the pitch Connor Jennings had the energy to outpace Chris Shaw, bring the ball under control and loft the ball over to the back post when Lloyd Ellams came steaming in to smash his header past Paddy Gamble with five minutes to go.
Apart from a wayward free kick being knocked well wide by Chris Hall, Alfreton just did not have the energy to keep up with Celtic, and the final whistle saw jubilant celebrations from fans and players alike.
|3||Shaw, Chris||> 61|
|7||Arnold, Nathan||> 47|
|9||Clayton, Paul||> 72|
|12||Hall, Jordan||< 47|
|14||Hall, Chris||< 61|
|15||Wilson, Anthony||< 72|