A win would have virtually guaranteed Celtic a place in Conference North next season, whilst a win was a must for Marine. However, Marine came looking for a draw, playing a defensive formation, very tight at the back. This coupled with an exhausting week for both teams led to a blistering start and then a subdued match. Horridge was brought back from Bacup for the first time since playing against Prescott Cables some months before, ahead of McCarthy and JP.
This start saw Celtic quickly take possession off Marine and race down the other end of the pitch. Hayward found Eastwood in space with a square ball. Crookes was badly positioned, and Eastwood fired a low drive into the box that left the visiting keeper stationary. First attack: first goal.
Parr won the ball back almost from the kick off and played in Denham, who could only win a corner off Proctor. As usual, this season, Celtic wasted the corner.
Marine's first attack started when Caldecott slid on Murphy, only for the Marine fullback to escape with the ball and race towards the Celtic goal unopposed. His whipped in cross into the box was met by the diving head of Townsend, who reached the ball a fraction of an inch ahead of Horridge and Keeling, to equalise.
Marine immediately adopted their defensive formation, defending deep to prevent runs behind them. Even so Caldecott beat the defence to a long ball, Crookes came racing out, but was always second favourite. Caldecott lobbed the ball for Hayward on the centre spot, he was pulled down by Connolly, and the ball fell to Denham who's instant volley found Crookes back in a good position, had it gone in, it wouldn't have counted, because while Hayward was being pulled down, he apparently fouled Connolly.
Townsend cynically scythed Wharton down near the half way line, earning the Marine attacker a yellow card. From the free kick, Hayward lobbed the ball over the defence for Eastwood to run onto. Connolly got there first and smashed a clearance right into Eastwood's midriff. Eastwood went down and the rebound went wide.
Marine then got a pair of free kicks for what looked like legal challenges. The first from Parr on Townsend in the middle of the park, and when Caldecott dispossessed Connolly thirty yards from goal direct from the free kick, the set-piece moved closer to the goal. Bowker reached this free kick yards ahead of the intended target and cleared with a thumping header.
Celtic's turn from a free kick came when Bolan pulled Denham back some thirty-five yards from goal. Parr met Wharton's free kick with a glancing header, but it was wide.
As the game slowed, Townsend was able to get a cross-shot into the box that kept Horridge on his toes as he tipped the ball over the bar. Connolly climbed all over Keeling in the box, and Marine wasted their chance. Parr then got the game's second booking when he tangled with Kay on the halfway line, though quite how he got enough power in the challenge to send Kay flying as far as he did was a mystery. Bowker put the free kick out for a corner, which was wasted, though Caldecott gifted Bolan the ball near the touchline, and a cross came in for Ellison, who wellied his volley well over the bar. Dolan tried a speculative effort from forty yards, but Horridge watched it all the way, and made a comfortable catch.
Celtic came back at Marine through Wharton's industry. Just when it looked like he might lose it, he slid it square to Denham, who blasted a shot towards goal, only for Randles to throw himself in the way of it. As the half began to run out, Denham won a corner off Proctor. The corner came all the way across to Denham, who laid it off nicely for Eastwood. From close range Eastwood tried to divert the ball into the bottom corner, and with Crookes going the wrong way, it took a great save with his foot to deny Eastwood his second. The ball fell to Monk, who tried to lob the ball back into the danger area, but Culshaw got it clear.
Wharton found Hayward who turned off his man really well before lobbing a ball to Eastwood at the edge of the six-yard box. He turned well off Culshaw, but his shot was deflected on the line by the arm of Randles for a corner only. The head of Keeling met the corner, but Murphy was on the line to head clear.
The start of the second half saw Celtic bring on Clegg for Pearce, switching to what looked like 2-4-4, and Marine look for an early goal. Horridge had to race from his box to clear a lobbed ball over the defence. Young went racing for it as well, and Horridge's clearance struck Young rebounding out to Dolan. Dolan's first time shot was on the right side of the goal for Horridge, racing back into position, to smother. A lobbed cross over the defence should have been going to an offside Young, but he held up his hands allowing the ball to go to Townsend. Bowker managed to get back to put Townsend under pressure, forcing the striker to shoot wide.
A quick thinking throw to Hayward saw a deft first touch over the defence to Eastwood. Eastwood also went for the first time lob over the keeper, but he also cleared the bar. Hayward's quick feet almost gave Celtic all three points. Wharton put him through, one-on-one with Crookes. Crookes superbly parried his blasted shot. The loose ball fell to Denham on the corner of the six-yard box, but it was just the wrong height and his knee diverted the ball wide.
Denham got another chance moments later when he was released by a weighted pass from Eastwood. Denham skipped around Proctor, and found a yard of space at the edge of the area, then put his shot over the bar.
Caldecott slid on a running Murphy right at the edge of the box, missed ball and player, but when Murphy ran out of room and into Pearce, the referee pulled the game back for a foul. The free kick was struck low and hard, forcing a good save from Celtic's third keeper in three games. Bowker jumped for a ball and landed on Young. The free kick was given, but it was delivered poorly, and cleared by Wharton.
Eastwood wouldn't have reached Denham's hopeful low drive across the box, but Dolan didn't know that and cut the ball out for a corner. Bowker got a firm contact on the corner, but Dolan was there to clear off the line. Murphy went in for a header with Parr, and came off much worse, including giving away a foul. Connolly put out the free kick for a corner. The corner was retrieved by Hayward, who put a good cross in, that Proctor put out for a second corner. Cullshaw's header got stuck between the feet of Proctor, but Celtic couldn't react quickly enough to this sudden gift, and Proctor managed to get the ball clear.
Marine relieved a bit of the pressure that they'd been bringing down on themselves by playing in their own third, by releasing Young. Young's cross was deep and met by the head of Murphy, but the header was soft and right at Horridge.
Marine then retreated again, and Wharton put the ball into the path of Clegg some twenty-five yards out. It was a screamer of a shot, but wide. In a good, economical move, Hayward twisted his marker and put the ball across to Eastwood, Eastwood lined up Wharton, and it was a good shot, requiring a good save from Crookes.
Potts was brought on for Parr, and though Eastwood tried to find Potts with a good cross, the referee (who wasn't watching the ball) deflected the ball out for a goal kick.
Denham soon brought the ball back to the waiting eight-man defence, and was fouled by Dolan. Randles intercepted the free kick, putting it out for a throw. From the throw Denham and Potts interchanged, with the latter taking the shot from outside the area, it span off the outside of his boot, and well wide. Clegg was then fouled forty yards from goal. Potts' free kick was inch perfect for Hayward who turned around his marker and shot, over the bar.
Marine had come to defend, and did a great job. The game didn't sparkle, but having played only 48 hours before, it was hardly going to. The point leaves Celtic not quite mathematically safe, but reasonably safe with nine teams unable to catch them. Ironically, the one team that can catch Celtic is Runcorn, who are Celtic's next opponents. A win at the Halton stadium would see Celtic mathematically safe, anything less would require Celtic to get points off Hucknall at Hucknall or Barrow at the Fold. Not an enticing prospect. Celtic do not have a good record at the Halton stadium, though they did win there last season in the President's cup semi-final. This game is a bigger game than that, so hopefully the lads will be up for it.