Stalybridge Celtic looked awfully rusty after not playing for a fortnight, and Burscough looked buoyed by their recent Trophy victory. Even so, Burscough came into this game having scored only four goals in ten matches. Without Martindale, their lead striker, goals are looking hard to come by, but Burscough gave everything they had to find one.
They opened their shots on target account in the first minute, with the dangerous looking Lawless having a shot from distance that Dootson could only parry. The ball looked to have spilled onto White's foot, but Pearce was right there to hoof the ball clear at the expense of the first of many Burscough corners. Taylor was at the back post, but under pressure from Mayers, he could only tamely head the ball wide.
Denham was to be the danger man for Celtic at the other end, and he showed his lightning pace when Eastwood's perfectly weighted ball allowed Denham to race into the box. Mathew Taylor, the Burscough goalkeeper was on his toes, and raced out to smother the ball at Denham's feet, forcing the young striker to leap over the keeper.
After losing the ball, Lawless sent himself flying, but won the free kick, despite not being touched. It was whipped in by Molyneaux to the far post, and Pearce played safe, granting Burscough another corner. The corner was cleared well by Celtic, but only as far as Burns about forty-five yards from goal. He tried an instant shot, but the shot was wild and wide.
Despite Burns pulling Wharton six ways from Sunday, when Wharton tried to shrug him off, the referee gave Burns the free kick, just out side the centre circle. It was a poor free kick, straight at Bowker, and easily cleared. But they were soon coming back at Celtic, being first to the ball, and harrying Celtic's possession. Lawless twisted and turned inside the box, and managed to get off a shot that Pearce got a deflection on, and Dootson parried away, and Bowker cleared.
Denham was irrepressible when he got the ball, and with Burscough marking his targets closely, he decided to take it himself, he skipped past Teale, twisted past Burns, who lunged in but missed, and snapped off a shot as soon as a space presented itself, but he was off balance and the shot sailed over the bar. Celtic were starting to get to grips with the game, returning to their more usual fluid passing game. Mayers and Eastwood created some space for themselves, before Eastwood drove a cross field ball to Bowman. A one touch instant pass laid off Hooper, setting him up for a curling shot into the top corner. It was all precision and no power though, allowing Taylor to scramble across his goal, and pluck the ball seemingly comfortably out of the air.
Fitzgerald was soon bringing the ball back up the wing, and provided the first of several excellent crosses, destined for the head of Mayers. Teale used all of his experience to read the curling ball well, and et his head on it just ahead of Mayers, at the expense of a corner., and he then cleared the corner.
In one of the more bizarre decisions, a hopeful punt up field from Burns was a good foot over the bar. As keepers are wont to do, Dootson covered the underside of his crossbar, and was then mystified how the linesman could give a corner, despite his being a yard from the ball. Fortunately, it was a poor corner, and Dootson could punch clear. Teale tried to control it, but it bounced of his shin for a goal kick.
It was mere moments before pressure from White saw Bowker concede yet another corner, again it was a poor corner, and Celtic brought it clear. Bowman brought the ball close to the box, with the keeper badly position, Bowman decided to have a go himself, despite Mayers' excellent positioning in acres of space. His shot was a grass skimmer, and only narrowly wide, leaving Taylor looking worried as it skimmed past the post. Eastwood made himself some space after an intelligent ball from Mayers left him in a great position. Though the shot was powerful, it was right at Taylor, and the Burscough keeper took it comfortably. And when the Burscough defence weren't on their game, Mayers did the job for them. Denham jinked inside McCauley and snapped off a great shot that would have opened the account, were it not for the backside of Mayers! It didn't take long though for Fitzgerald to send in another great cross destined for Mayers; this time it was McCauley who had to be alert, getting to the cross inches ahead of Mayers, at the expense of a corner. Joe Taylor hacked the ball clear but only as far as Eastwood. Eastwood's driven shot struck Taylor rebounding to Mayers. Mayers had no sight of goal, and spread it to Wharton, but Wharton was dispossessed to easily by Lawless. Lawless spied White and fed a long punt out to the Linnet's striker. White took it around the back of the Celtic defence and had a shot from a narrow angle, and hitting the side netting.
Celtic took the warning shot and got back to grips with the game. Mayers put a great ball at the feet of Denham. Denham had the keeper rushing out to him, McCauley and Teale breathing down his neck, he tried to chip the lot of them, and looked ever so disappointed when the ball crept just the wrong side of the upright.
In this end to end match, Bowen raced up field and got behind Fitzgerald, cutting a dangerous ball back to White and Byrne rushing into the box. Dootson was alert and cut out the cross, before releasing Fitzgerald to run back up the other end. Fitzgerald put in a great ball over the top of the Burscough defence. McCauley couldn't reach it, but Denham could, and he volleyed it past the helpless Taylor. The goal inspired Celtic, and they wrestled the ball back straight off the restart. Denham raced onto the hopeless looking ball and cut a great cross back for Mayers. McCauley was there again ahead of Mayers, to head just over his own bar.
Taylor punched unconvincingly clear and Molyneaux had to react quickly to hack it clear. Eastwood soon won it back and lifted the ball over the defence into the path of Wharton. Wharton threw himself at the ball, and had he been warning longer studs, he'd have steered it into the net, as it was, the keeper got down well to smother the ball.
Lawless decided he'd try and take on the whole Celtic team, starting at the edge of his own box, and beating everybody to get within thirty yards of Celtic's net when he spoiled the move with an awful shot.
But it was Celtic who had the upper hand at the end of the first half, and when German's cross was excellently controlled and volleyed by Eastwood, it looked as though he would continue his goal scoring streak, but the keeper acrobatically plucked the ball out of the top corner.
Potts was brought on to replace Hooper at the start of the second half, and it severely disrupted the midfield shape of Celtic, and allowed Burscough far too much time and space to apply pressure to the home side. Potts' first touch was to waste a good ball from an Eastwood layoff spinning the ball high and wide. Eastwood tried himself a minute later, curling the ball towards the top corner. Without the power, it was an easy catch for Taylor.
Potts' second touch, saw him needlessly give Burscough a corner, trying to chest down Lawless' cross into the box to Dootson, but putting it well beyond Dootson's reach. Fortunately, it was another poor corner from the visitors, and went across the box too high for everybody and out for a goal kick.
White almost equalised as Burscough pressurised from the midfield. He turned between Pearce and Bowker and unleashed a ferocious shot that beat Dootson, and rebounded off the post.
Celtic were still carving out opportunities, mainly from Denham, who had swapped sides to make space for Potts. Denham dodged several lunging challenges from Burscough before Burns eventually brought him crashing down with no attempt to play the ball. He got a yellow card, and Celtic got a free kick in a dangerous place, with Potts on the field. Rather then curl it, Potts played it square to Mayers, who instantaneously fed it into the feet of a running Eastwood. Eastwood blasted it towards goal, and Teale still probably doesn't know what hit him, but he blocked the shot.
But this was about the space and time that Burscough had. Plenty o intricate passing eventually results in a Lawless cross into the box, that Pearce had to head out for a corner. It was a great corner, right onto the head of Byrne. Dootson pulled off a miracle save, getting low to block the powerful header. Mayers hacked it clear for a second corner. Dootson punched the ball clear, but not very far, and right to White. Pearce closed him down, and blocked the shot. Denham was released to run the full length of the field. Molyneaux tracked him back, and also under the close attention of Teale, Denham eventually dug the ball out enough to win a corner, but the poor corner was cleared. Denham collected the goal kick, only to be upended by Underwood, who then spread the ball to Bowen, and his cross was put out for a corner by Bowker. Another poor corner saw White shove Dootson before the ball was even kicked, and Celtic had a bit of breathing space.
Burscough's finishing was epitomised by Underwood, who expertly trapped a Bowker clearance, only to try his luck from distance, and barely got the ball into the same postcode as the nets.
The game was rapidly deteriorating into a game of corners. Potts' tried to take on McCauley, succeeded once, then had another go, but McCauley poked the ball for a Celtic corner. The corner was sent to German to pump into the box. McCauley rose higher than Eastwood, and nodded it out for a throw in. Fitzgerald threw the ball to Mayers, who gave it him right back. The instant cross was excellent, right onto the head of Bowker, still up from the corner, but he headed over.
After some excellent defending, Celtic nearly shot themselves in the foot. Dootson tried to throw the ball to Fitzgerald, but Bowen nipped in and stole the ball. Dootson sprinted back to his line, as Bowen had the goal at his mercy, had he been able to control it first time, he would have had the easiest goal of his career, but his first touch let him down, and gave Dootson time to get positioned, one on one with Bowen, Dootson came out on top, blocking the well struck shot, and Bowker could hoof it clear. It looked like a Burscough goal was a certainty with the pressure and time they were being granted in the middle of the part that allowed them to line up at the edge of the box to keep pumping the ball back at Celtic's beleaguered defence.
Corner after corner came Burscough's way, and they were guilty of missing several guilt edged chances. After one corner, the ball fell kindly to McCauley, and though he had to shoot through a crowd of players, he struck none of them and went wide. White wasted another when he did all the hard work bouncing the ball through the defence but then sticking the ball into the side netting as Dootson closed him down.
Burscough's lack of pace from corners almost undid them a couple of times. On one occasion, Potts raced up field leaving lunging tackles in his wake before spreading the ball across to an unmarked Denham. Denham took one touch to steady himself and produced a good save from the keeper. And when Fitzgerald's ball in was cut out by Joe Taylor, and passed back to the keeper who scooped up the ball, the referee would not countenance an indirect free kick for the infringement, waving the protestations away. Eastwood also got a chance when Fitzgerald found him with a long cross field ball. Eastwood had options, but he chose the one that involved an easy catch for the keeper.
A cross from Bowen found an unmarked Byrne at the edge of the six yard box, and it took a great save from Dootson to retain Celtic's lead.
Black was brought on for Mayers, despite many spectators thinking a midfielder would be a better option. He almost opened his account when Taylor spilled a powerful shot from Denham at the edge of the box, but Taylor recovered enough to beat Black to the ball.
Another corner came to Burscough as the game was running out of time. Byrne's powerful shot from the edge of the box being brilliantly tipped over the bar by Dootson. The whole Burscough team, including the keeper, packed into the box for the corner, but it was a poor delivery and sailed out for a goal kick too high for anybody. It took a while for Dootson to regain the ball, giving Taylor enough time to trot back to his own goals.
Celtic finished the game with an attack of their own, attempting to make the score-line more respectable and belie the pressure that they had withstood. Bowman ripped of a power shot from the edge of the box that Teale blocked into the path of Denham. Denham's shot was wide. However, as Burscough searched for the equaliser and the game went deep into stoppage time, Black raced down the field with just one defender and the keeper back. Eastwood and Potts came with him.
As the Burscough defence raced back into positions, Black tried to lift the ball over Teale to an unmarked Eastwood on the penalty spot, but it was too high. It fell instead to Potts and he had the pleasure of McCauley's company. A quick pass to the red in the face with yelling and unmarked Eastwood still stood ignored on the penalty spot would have doubled Celtic's lead, but Potts wanted to beat McCauley with his skill, and instead lost out, allowing McCauley to pump it field. Before any more pressure could come from the visitors, the referee blew his whistle.
Celtic withstood a tremendous amount of pressure in the second half that saw many missed chances, umpteen Burscough corners, three terrific saves from Dootson, a ball hitting the post and another into the side netting. Hopefully the game will have shaken the cobwebs out of Celtic's system and better football will be played in the game next week, when we play Burscough again, this time at their place. With Accrington Stanley winning again (albeit in the last few minutes after being 2-1 down to Harrogate) Celtic need to get maximum points at Burscough to keep up the pressure on the leaders and the gap to the chasing pack.