After a mammoth snow clearing operation by at one point forty volunteers, the overnight two inches of snow was cleared that allowed the game to go ahead. However, the herculean effort of the supporters could not be matched by a herculean result, as Celtic lost the game because they could not break down the visitors defence. And if you cannot score, you cannot win.
The opening twenty minutes was a cagey affair, with Celtic probing at Nuneaton's back five. Nuneaton broke quickly and with deadly accuracy, moving the ball up-field very quickly through Collins, who fed the ball to Brown, but Sykes got in the way of the powerful shot, and Collins on the follow-up forced Gamble into a save.
After this, the game became more free flowing, with Celtic trying to stretch play across the field, but struggling to get past the defence, in the end, it was Smart who broke through, but with two closing in on him, the best he could manage was a curling shot wide of the mark. Dean latched onto a Hall flicked through ball and outpaced McIlwain, but Acton had a comfortable catch to make, with Dean's shot lacking any real power.
Both Smart and Woolliscroft broke through the Nuneaton fortifications, but both shot wide, and it looked like overlapping fullbacks were the way to break down Nuneaton.
Just before half time, Collins tried a hopeful shot from distance that Gamble had to save, and Garner shot through a crowd, forcing Acton into a reaction save, though the ball was close enough to him to simplify things.
Celtic tried to catch the visitors napping in the second half, Dean scooting a ball across the face in the opening seconds, and Meechan twisting into a shooting position, only for Acton to make the save low down. Minutes into the first half and Travis came to Nuneaton's rescue. From a corner, Burke rose highest and looped his header over Acton, but at the back post, Travis leapt and nodded the ball away off the line.
Celtic were pushing Nuneaton further and further back, but after Garner's shot through a crowd was saved, Acton pumped the ball to the wing, Collins picked it up, threaded it through to Brown behind the Celtic defence. Brown latched onto it, and one-on-one with Gamble, made no mistake slotting it into the smallest of gaps between Gamble and the post.
The goal buoyed the visitors, and gave Celtic no time on the ball, forcing mistake after mistake in Celtic's passing game. Both Collins and Brown saw efforts saved, before a moment of controversy. With the linesman still coming down the line trying to keep up with Hall, Hall's shot was saved by Acton and he was clearly stood behind the line ? he quickly pushed the ball forward, and the referee looked at the linesman to ask ? was it a goal, but with the linesman out of position, all he could do was shrug, and the ?goal? did not stand.
The game was playing like the one goal would be enough to win it, but with seconds on the clock, Nuneaton got to add some gloss to their solid performance at the back when Pritchard was tripped in the box. Brown stepped up to take and he fired himself to the top of the Golden Boot league from the spot, sending Gamble left, and shooting low to his right.
There was just enough time for a wicked shot from Smart, but again it was straight at Acton.
2-0 may have been a bit harsh, but Nuneaton deserved the three points and the fifth place spot that came with it. On the day, they were simply better defensively than Celtic were in attack. Celtic need to accept that, work on some new approaches, and go to Harrogate with the intention of getting back into fifth. There's still a long way to go in this year's league.
Pictures courtesy of Mossley Smiffy(except snow clearing from Rascal)
|7||Collins, Matty||> 84|
|10||Stepien, Jordan||> 59|
|12||Noon, Mark||< 84|
|15||Rodman, Alex||< 59|