Radcliffe road their luck, and came out winners. Celtic did everything they could to break the visitors down, but in the end, failing to hit the target cost them any share of the spoils. To end the day, what appeared to be a serious injury to Craig Dootson put a damp cloth over expectations for Tuesday night. Fortunately, it looks like Doots will be fit for the Barnet match.
Celtic started with Potts winning a corner off a lax pass from Battersby back to his keeper, and Luker had to come across. Though the corner was cleared, the still sleepy Radcliffe defence should have been punished. Fresh back from suspension, Potts walked onto a very poor pass from Luker. The Boro defender tracked Potts across, forcing the Celtic man to strike on the run as he was entering the box, his shot cleared the bar.
The lack of Potts over the previous few weeks showed in the creativity that he produced throughout the game. An instant trap on the edge of the box gave him the time to weigh up his options. New signing Thornley hoped to emulate Smith from the midweek match at Northwich Victoria with a goal on his debut, if not his first touch. The ball to his feet from Potts was sweet, and the shot struck well, somehow, Hurst sprung just far enough to claw it away from danger. Hurst did well again moments later, the faintest of touches from Potts off a Thornley pass almost flummoxed the young keeper, but Hurst twisted around well to stop the inexorable path of the ball.
Thornley looked a class apart at times, and he danced his way into the box, taking on several defenders, and leaving them in tears. After doing the hard work, one-on-one with Hurst he tried to blast it past him, but Hurst got lucky, and deflected the ball with an unwitting thigh. There was something of a personal battle going on between Hurst and Thornley as Eastwood and Thornley interchanged to put the latter clean through into the box, but again Hurst's save was just about a match for the shot.
Over twenty minutes into the game, and Radcliffe's first real opportunity came from a dead ball, when Pearce was adjudged to have held Sampson. Bishop took the free kick, a great curling effort, but Dootson was awake and up for it.
Keeling and Bullimore were both laid off by a defensively mobbed Eastwood, but one put it over, and the other put it wide. Eastwood was on target moments later when Potts put him through. However, his shot was right into Hurst's midriff.
Kielty was handed the perfect goal-scoring opportunity, gift wrapped and bow-tied by Potts. Kielty had got unmarked to the corner of the six yard box, Potts had found him with a ball that put itself on Kielty's feet. There was only the keeper to beat. What would it be, a curling chip into the far top corner? A low power drive in at the near post? No, it was a turn a back to goal, and try and pass to Eastwood heavily marked just outside the box! I could have cried.
As though mortified that he'd not taken the easy chance, Kielty again got n a good position (not as good) and received the ball off Eastwood. He tried to curl it around the defence and Hurst, but clipped a defender, and lost all sting, so Hurst could claim.
Eastwood shook off his markers long enough to whip a great cross above the flapping arm of Hurst to Potts at the back post. Potts is not the tallest lad, and Whealing was able to head clear. Well, head back into the centre of the box where Keeling was waiting, his back to goal. He tried the overhead kick, but cleared the bar.
If anybody thought the referee was a homer, he waved that misconception away when German saw space opening up before him and raced through the centre of the field. He'd got about a third of the way in when both Marginson and Luker converged at speed. German knocked it between them and went running after it. Marginson and Luker both slid and and sent German crashing down. Double booking? Not even a free kick.
It was nearly before half time before Banim finally got the better of his close attention. He instantly converted a looping deep cross into an accurate powerful shot that must have knocked the wind out of Dootson. As if to prove that even the best miss, Radcliffe tried the technique again, this time Banim brought the ball down and went one-on-one with Dootson - he missed the target.
On either side of the half time whistle Celtic cleared the bar. First Eastwood's turn and shot of Keeling's through ball, then a Thornley cross was nodded to German from Eastwood, but his spectacular shot on goal was also over.
Then came a sucker punch. Sampson was going nowhere until he somehow squeezed a ball beyond Todd and Pearce to Marginson, twenty five yards out, dead centre and the time to pick his curling, looping, dipping shot that beat Dootson in every direction as it crawled into the top corner.
Celtic continued in the same vein, breaking through the defence, but getting now reward. Potts won a corner, that Hurst flapped at putting the ball onto Eastwood's usually deadly right foot. Eastwood's instant shot to try and beat the out of position Hurst showed how agile the Boro keeper is, as he twisted and jumped to block the ball. Had Mayers been on the pitch, he'd have been stood where the ball landed - he has that knack - nobody on the pitch did, and Hurst could claim the loose ball. When Potts won another corner a few minutes later, Hurst again flapped it onto Eastwood's foot, but his powerful strike was over the bar. Nor was it just Eastwood putting the ball into the stands. Potts did all the hard work, and fed the ball out to Bullimore running in. Bullimore struck it cleanly and powerfully, but the ball rose all the way from the edge of the box to the roof of the stand.
Off the back of the earlier counter attack goal, Radcliffe tried it again, but Sampson is no Banim, and when he found himself one-on-one with Dootson, he tried to place it past the Celtic number one, who bears that title for good reason, and he produced a damn fine stop. To show him out it should be done, Banim latched onto a clearance, turned Bowker so easily and went one-on-one with Dootson. No placement, all power, back of the net and the goal machine roars on.
And still Celtic wasted opportunities in front of goal. Eastwood took possession of a Bullimore threaded ball, with nowhere to go he got the ball to Thornley, whose shot was deflected wide for a corner. The corner eventually fell to Bowker, who headed wide. When Celtic got a free kick in a dangerous position, Potts' free kick was straight at Hurst, he didn't even have to move.
Clegg and Heald came onto the pitch to rejuvenate the midfield. Clegg's first touch was the culmination of some good work by Thornley and Eastwood at the edge o the box, pulling the defenders apart so that he could get a good strike on the ball, but Boro had enough back for a thigh to take all the power out, and allow Hurst to scramble across and claim.
Heald's first contribution was to race after a seemingly dead ball and stop it before it went for a goal kick. He had the time to pick out Keeling as the only unmarked Celtic player, but Keeling's powerful shot was an inch the wrong side of the post.
Clegg tried Hurst's reactions out from thirty five yards, but Hurst had been watching, and caught the ball.
During the heavy bombardment of the Boro goal, Dootson collapsed in his own nets at the far end. It seems that during a kick, he'd caught more turf than ball and strained his knee. A stretcher was called for and with stoppage time ticking away (which the ref never replaced), Dootson was taken from the field. Eastwood took the jersey, it looked a little big on him, and the mood was somber as Foster came on.
Still there was a job to do, and Foster tried it with the last kick of the match, latching onto Thornley reverse pass and from an acute angle he managed to prove again that Hurst is an agile bloke!
Celtic had enough chances for two games in this match, and failed to convert any of them. It may be an old adage in football, but goal do win matches. If you're not scoring, the best you can hope for is a draw. We have strikers at the club - but either through lack of confidence, or practice, they're not finding the back of the net. Practice we should give them - confidence they have to give themselves.