A rare sunny day provided a positive start to the Spa Cup Final which saw Celtic pitched against fellow promotion chasers Hampsthwaite FC in the tie played at Boroughbridge.
A sizeable crowd saw a slow and unattractive start from both sides as neither team was able to take control of the match or dominate possession. For Celtic, it was a jaded and lethargic start to the game with few players looking sharp or demonstrating the passion you would expect for a cup final.
The first half followed a pattern of lost possession and little opportunity for either side and whilst the defensive pairing of Finnerty and Wright looked comfortable with Butler not making a single save in the first half, the opposition goalkeeper was equally redundant. Ashcroft playing as the lone striker worked the channels well and caused problems for the Hampsthwaite back 4 but the lack of support meant his tireless work rate was fruitless. With Hampsthwaite employing 2 poor full backs it should have been rich pickings for the Celtic wide men, alas, no joy was had on either flank and whilst the swapping of positions for George and Jacko brought some more penetration no chances were forthcoming. The only real light seemed to come from the dribbling skills of Shaw with the veteran creating a half chance after waltzing through the opposition defence.
As the team came out for the second half at 0-0 Hampsthwaite took a more direct route whilst Celtic were looking stronger, particularly on the wings with George getting more joy against the tiring 90 year old full back he was up against.
With 10 minutes of the second half gone Finnerty went on one of his usual roams which ordinarily resulted in him losing possession and chasing backwards. Not this time. He skipped past a couple of tackles before unleashing a swerving shot from 30 yards which found the top right hand corner. Cue Celtic celebration.
1-0 up Celtic became defensive when they should have been pressing for a second and as the second half wore on the Celtic back 4 drop deeper and deeper. The opposition were now playing 4-2-4 and had deployed all 3 subs who ultimately changed the game.
With 8 minutes to go Hampsthwaite drew level. A long ball (the 200th of the match!) deep into the Celtic box saw Butler come out to claim only to see the ball headed from his grasp and flicked into the back of the net.
The oppositions tails were up and Celtic now looking tired after a lack of matches and training were unable to retain the ball and came under incessant pressure from long balls. With only moments to go another long ball into the Celtic box was defended well by Wright but his clearance didn’t go far enough and with Bollon making a last gasp tackle on the 6 yard line his attempted clearance failed and as the ball fell the feet of Marau, the Hampsthwaite striker, he skipped past a tackle or two before rifling past Butler.
Celtic didn’t have long enough to claw their way back into the game and a disappointing performance probably got the result it deserved!
The Hoops now go into April with promotion chances alive and kicking and their end of season destiny in their hands.