STALYBRIDGE CELTIC 2, MARSKE UNITED 3
Stalybridge Celtic’s sixth straight league defeat has seen them plummet to the edge of the relegation places in Northern Premier League, premier division.
Newly promoted Marske United’s victory at Bower Fold maintained their promotion play-off place and left Celtic only one place and one point clear of the drop zone.
The fact Celtic contributed to a great spectacle for any neutral fan was of little comfort to Celtic manager Chris Willcock who admitted he is realistic enough to release his job is under threat because of his side’s poor run of form – they have won only three of their 13 league games.
Yet, in the opening half, Celtic played really well and fully deserved to be 1-0 ahead through Theo Bailey-Jones’ early strike.
The only criticism was that Celtic were not out of sight as they failed to take some wonderful chances to put the game to bed.
It was clear to see why Celtic, before the Marske match, had scored only six goals in their first 12 league games, the lowest by any team in the division.
While Celtic dominated the opening half, they were second best after the restart as Marske were an altogether different team.
And there was the domino effect as Celtic conceded three goals in a disastrous nine-minute spell to suddenly find themselves effectively dead and buried.
That took the goals against column to 20, the fourth worst in the division with Willcock saying this is his major concern.
“The bottom line is we need two centre halves as we cannot deal with long or diagonal balls. If I don’t get them, I will probably lose my job. I am realistic looking at our results to realise my job is under threat,” he said.
Celtic were clearly handicapped by the absence of three injured defenders, the influential Kyle Harrison, Louis Danquah and new signing Reece Hanley, though Willcock refused to use injuries as an excuse for his side’s poor defensive form.
Despite a late goal from Tom Miller and a spirited finish, Celtic finished empty handed.
“We had a very good first half and a very poor second one defensively. That is the game in a nutshell,” Willcock explained.
He added the game could have been out of Marske’s reach had they taken their first-half chances, but the goals against column remained his major concern.
Celtic got off to a flyer when Bailey-Jones fired home a low Raul Correia cross from six yards.
Correia and Bailey-Jones failed to take gilt-edge chances as Celtic ought to have been further ahead at the break.
There was a fear they may live to regret those misses, and so it proved as Celtic folded like a pack of cards once Adam Boyce was given a free header for Marske’s 54th minute equaliser.
Celtic’s defence was carved open as Connor Hampson, who was once bought by Preston North End from Hartlepool United for £50,000, was released to fire the second into an empty net.
Barely had Celtic kicked off and goalkeeper Greg Hall was picking the ball out of the net again, this time another header from Boyce as Celtic failed for a second time to deal with his aerial threat.
This was a seventh goal of the season from Boyce who was last season’s NPL, east division golden boot winner with a remarkable 46 goals in 48 games in all competitions.
Miller halved the deficit heading home Moses Yoak’s corner with seven minutes left.
Despite laying siege to the Marske goal for the remainder of the match, Celtic never looked like finding the net for a third time to snatch a point.