BetVictor Premier Division: South Shields 2-1 Stalybridge Celtic
After giving the table-topping hosts too much time in the first half, Celtic came back strongly in the second grabbing a goal and looking the more likely winners until a deep into stoppage time penalty was converted giving the hosts and unlikely victory.
The first half saw South Shields looking comfortable and composed, spreading the ball around superbly well, with Celtic chasing shadows. Even so, their chances were limited by some excellent Celtic defending; it looked like Celtic might find the opener when Scott Bakkor burst past his marker and found Darius Osei in the six-yard box. With his back to goal, Osei was quickly surrounded by a defence that had only conceded two at home all season. It was the hosts that took the lead with their first real chance: a long diagonal ball that found David Foley unmarked in the corner, allowing him to bear down on goal. Kallum Mantack came to cover too late, Foley drilling low towards goal. Stephen O’Halloran tried to keep it out, sliding into the goal with the ball, Alex Fojtíček beaten.
Celtic had a couple of chances, with Nathan Valentine and Declan Walker both off target, the league leaders heading into the interval a goal up.
There was much less space for Shields to settle in the second half, with Celtic pushing. This earned a corner that Osei deliberately handled into the back of the net, earning a yellow card, when had he left it, a penalty may have been awarded for a shove on him by the post. Bakkor was denied an equaliser only an incredible sliding tackle and a powerful angled shot from Walker required a flying one-handed save from Myles Boney. O’Halloran got his head to the corner, firing past the post and Ross Dent followed suit, screwing another corner wide.
Shields were getting chances as well, another long diagonal finding Celtic out of position, Adam Thurston driving in. This time Fojtíček made an excellent stop, the rebound coming to Foley, Fojtíček on the floor making the close range save. A similar ball from Walker allowed Osei to break the offside trap. His initial touch putting him clear on goal with only a superb stop at the near post from Boney keeping Shields ahead. Hobson directed a Bakkor cross straight at Boney as Celtic’s pressure was making the home defence creak. A Walker cross was destined for either Hobson’s head or Jonathan Ustabasi’s swinging volley before first Gary Brown’s vital touch took it away from Hobson and Jordan Hunter’s stretching boot sent the ball away from Ustabasi.
From the corner, Bakkor twisted into the box, his low shot spinning past the post after hitting an unknowing Thurston and this time, from the corner, a flap by Boney left the ball pinging in the Shields’ box, Chris Smalley having the presence of mind to find a ball sized hole in the mass of legs to put in the equaliser.
Celtic were looking the more likely for an equaliser, though Bakkor’s shot fired over and Ustabasi going agonisingly close, was the closest they came until stoppage time loomed.
Last season, Celtic looked like breaking Shields’ hundred percent home record with a hard-fought draw until a late wind assisted goal kept that record intact. On a new run of four home wins out of the last four, Celtic again looked likely to break their record until Mark Lees slid in to dispossess Jon Shaw. Lees looked to have taken the ball, but momentum carried Shaw forward over Lees and a penalty was awarded.
Briggs took, firing into the top right corner, leaving Fojtíček no chance and lightning struck for a second season in a row.
It was a strong well-driller performance from Celtic, desperately unlucky not to come from Newcastle with at least a point.
By Deborah Taylor