Celtic needed a win desperately in order to get their season back on track, but in three games now, ten goals have been conceded. On the plus side, nine goals have been scored. Quick quiz - when was the last team to score three goals in three consecutive games, and win none of them?
Altrincham were definitely the stronger team in the first half, with the Robins guilty of wasting several openings. Scott missed the first, lashing a volley from a throw-in wide, then Hallows headed wide after quick sweeping passes brought the ball from defence to attack. However, it was the defence that was the main reason Altrincham were kept at bay, though at times it looked less than convincing. Keeling conceded two corners in quick succession, first from Holt, then from Craney. On both occasions, Bowling forced his way through a crowded six yard box to punch clear.
And when the defence were a little rocky, Bowling was having the game of his loan spell! An free kick in the centre circle was floated into the box, Holt nodded it down to the bottom corner, but Bowling made the save look comfortable.
With the injury to Clegg at the end of the President's cup match and Parr not guaranteed to be playing, Scott Bonsall was drafted in on loan from Harrogate Town. The Celtic curse struck again, as Bonsall went in for a tackle on Craney, and broke his leg, forcing the seventh stretcher job for Celtic this season. He was on loan for a month, but it looks likely that he'll miss the rest of the season. Sorry Harrogate!
Fortunately, Kevin Parr was fit enough to make it to the subs bench, so he was brought on, and continued to provide the bite in the centre of the park that Clegg had been providing. Parr slotted straight into the side like he'd never been away, getting stuck in and making a nuisance of himself. He may not be as mobile as Clegg, but nobody could accuse him of worrying about his injury, His first job was winning the ball back off Band and putting Denham through one-on-one with Coburn. It looked like Denham couldn't relax though, and he dallied instead of providing the instant shot, allowing him to be mobbed by defenders and robbed by Talbot. The clearance went all the way to Hallows, who again missed the target.
Shuttleworth's cross into the box almost turned into a freaky goal, as it bypassed everybody when caught by a gust of wind. Bowling had to scramble across his line to smother it.
Pearce conceded a corner that was only half cleared, allowing the ball to be pumped back into the box. Bowling made a clean catch, but dropped it as Hallows barged into him, forcing a great reflex block from Band's snatched shot, putting the ball out for a corner. Parr cleared for a second corner. This went to the back post where Holt knocked it down for Hallows, the ex-Celtic striker was thwarted by a good save from Bowling. Keeling conceded a corner minutes later that went all the way across the box to Band, completely unmarked, but his shot hit the side netting.
Celtic still hadn't managed a shot by the half-hour mark, though a Monk cross ball found Denham shaping up for a super volley, but Talbot blocked the shot before it could get into the box. However, it showed that Celtic were beginning to turn the tide. A shot on goal finally came courtesy of Denham's pace. He raced towards the box with the ball at his feet before skidding it across the slick surface to Eastwood. Eastwood tried the instant shot only to see it blocked by Talbot's backside. It came back to Eastwood so he floated a cross to the back post where Monk came stooping in, but the header was straight at Coburn who was well positioned.
Altrincham won another corner, this time off Keeling stopping Hallows with a well-timed challenge. It came across to Craney who's body shape was just right for the volley. A great blocking save was made by Bowling, the ball bouncing out to Hallows who lashed it in again. Bowling twisted while still rising and smothered the ball. He looked invincible.
Parr was fouled in the centre circle, and the free kick was literally given away, allowing Holt to get goal side of Smith, and produce another save from Bowling. Craney thought he'd try his luck from distance, but again Bowling read the slippery surface well, and covered the ball with his body.
Just before the half time interval, Denham won Celtic's first corner, as Rose cut out his drag back from the by line. However, even with one of the Unibond's best headers of the ball now in a blue shirt in the box, the corner was played out before being crossed in by Monk, and caught by Coburn. However there was no despair, as Celtic quickly regained the ball, Monk fed it across the box to Eastwood, he turned one way, saw Rose, turned the other way, saw Rose, dummied and turned, saw a glimpse of netting, and let loose a powerful skimming shot. Coburn almost made it, he saw it late, and the ball squirmed underneath him to give Celtic the lead off only their second shot in the game. The cheer from the Celtic contingent was drowned out by the collective groan of the home fans.
The second half started in disastrous fashion, as it so often has this season. Craney and Keeling went down in a heap just outside the box. The referee saw differently, and awarded a penalty. Aspinall took, Aspinall scored. It was a strange sort of penalty, nobody from the Altrincham team appealed for it, not even Craney! And yet when it was given, nobody from the Celtic contingent protested. Two signs of two teams who have had no luck at all this season!
Altrincham won he ball straight back, and Shuttleworth wanted to many touches in the box, allowing Keeling to take the ball off his feet at the expense of a corner. Hallows pushed Bowling out of the way, wasting the corner. Denham then won a corner at the other end off Scott, but again the corner was strange and wasted.
A long throw from the sidelines was pumped into the box. Keeling was on hand to clear, but the ball stuck in the mud, Holt sneaked in and knocked the ball under Bowling from close range, Celtic were behind again, after a just a few minutes of the second half.
Unlike previous games, Celtic's heads didn't go down. Indeed, Keeling brought the ball out of defence, played a nice one-two with Wharton and blasted it from distance. Coburn pulled a top draw save out from the top class shot. The corner came out to Wharton, who performed his party piece of kicking the ball over the bar. Keeling's cross in won a corner off Adams. The ball swept into the box in a more traditional manner, stuck in the mud between Craney's feet. There was a moment of frantic farce as Eastwood came steaming in to equalise in a similar manner to Holt's goal, but Craney improvised, knocking the ball out for a second corner with the back of his foot, and almost scoring in the process. The corner failed to be put into the box, despite the previous debacle showing how dangerous it can be. However, Smith was fouled about twenty yards from goal. Eastwood took it, and if anything curled the shot too much as it bent right around the wall and into Coburn's arms.
As Celtic continued to apply pressure, Denham's run into the box was halted when Talbot took away his feet. Band had been the last man, conceded the penalty, but stayed on the park. Eastwood took the penalty, Eastwood scored the penalty, equalising from the spot. Coburn did get a hand to it, but it was not enough.
The scored did not stay equal for long. Smith was adjudged to have bundled over Holt just outside the box. Wright insinuated himself into the Celtic wall with a great deal of pushing that the referee was happy to allow. Aspinall's low shot into the centre of the wall was timed with Wright leaning into Keeling making enough of a space for the ball, it clipped Wright's forearm as it went through the wall, deflecting the ball into the opposite side of the net to Bowling. A catalogue of misdemeanors, yet the goal stood.
Hardy had a chance to put the game beyond Celtic while they were still smarting from the injustice suffered, but his shot from a narrow angle hit the far post and came back out again.
German was brought on for Bowman. Smith moved up to his more dangerous right flank position, Monk switched to the left flank, and German took the right back position.
Celtic gathered their wits, and started playing some nice football again. A low cross from Monk saw Eastwood dummy the defenders to allow the ball to run on to Denham with the keeper and defenders all out of position, he blasted over the bar.
Parr almost got the goal his long layoff deserved when an excellent ball from Smith was thudded just past his own post by Craney to stop Parr from thudding it the right side of the post. Parr did get a second chance off the corner. His header was down into the ground, but Coburn read the ball well, and went to the right place to make the catch.
As time began to tick away, the odds on Celtic getting anything out of this game began to lengthen. Smith tried to shoot on site, and though his shot was not a million miles away, it might as well have been. Denham's rifled shot was deflected for a corner by Talbot, that was obviously and repetitively easily cleared.
Just as the Celtic fans were about to give up hope, Denham reached an impossible to reach ball kept it in, dummied Talbot, skipped past two challenges as he ran the ball into the box, a great reverse pull back to Eastwood saw the hit-man completely unmarked and the hat-trick that resulted will have restored any loss of confidence he might have been feeling.
Celtic were, by any stretch of the imagination, lucky to get a point. While the penalty was dubious, the second goal a fluke and the free kick was downright laughable, that has been the story of many of the goals scored against us. The defence did cope hell of a lot better in set-piece situations today, but 10 goals conceded in 3 matches is not form that will put Celtic into the Conference North. 9 goals scored in 3 matches is the form we need. There's only one area on the pitch that's not working, and the goals for and against tell the whole story. A 3-3 draw at Moss Lane last season turned the season around for Celtic, Eastwood went on to score another 20 goals from that game onward. Let's hope history really does repeat itself.