STALYBRIDGE Celtic ended their wretched poor home form and took a massive step towards National League North safety with a 3-1 win over struggling Brackley Town this afternoon.
Chris Simm opened the scoring with a low shot that bounced over the line via the left-post before Brackley deservedly equalised minutes before the break when Matt Lowe powered home after a melee in the Celtic penalty area.
Charlie Joyce smashed the hosts back ahead 10 minutes into the second half and substitute Alec Mudimu made the points safe with a left-foot volley 15 minutes from time.
The win was Staly’s first at Bower Fold since the December 19 and took them five points clear of the relegation zone, which Brackley slipped into following today’s result.
Brackley came into this fixture in a good run of away form, recent victories at Lowestoft and Hednesford had lifted them above the bottom three, and they nearly went in-front after five minutes.
Celtic keeper and captain Tony McMillan inexplicably dropped a routine cross which led to mayhem in the penalty area. Glenn Walker, David Moyo and Curtis McDonald all shot goalwards but saw their efforts blocked by one of numerous bodies in the penalty area.
Kevin Wilkin’s side were the brighter both in and out of possession but fell behind very much against the run of play on the quarter-hour. After a potential handball from Jack Higgins, Celtic mounted an attack which ended in Simm jinking around his man and finishing via a slight deflection and the left post. Visiting goalkeeper Sam Hornby pawed the ball away but the linesman’s flag was up and Stalybridge had opened the scoring.
Conceding didn’t seem to affect the visitors. They continued to play lively, passing football with their quick front two and adventurous wingers often threatening the hosts’ goal without breaching it.
Higgins crashed a header against the crossbar from Aidan Chippendale’s corner in a rare foray forward for Liam Watson’s men before the Saints eventually drew themselves level. McMillan did incredibly well to deny Lee Ndlovu at the back-post twice but the ball dropped to Lowe and he drove home despite the best efforts of the Celtic number one.
This was the least Brackley deserved after a half they largely dominated and Liam Watson must agree with that analysis as he made a double change during the interval. Mudimu and Ben McKenna were introduced as the hosts clearly switched from a 4-4-2 formation to a 4-3-3 with Simm as the central striker.
The first 10 minutes of the second half saw Stalybridge struggle to adapt to their new formation and the Saints should have capitalised. Moyo blazed over from a great position. Walker had a volley well held by McMillan and Ndlovu’s shot from the edge of the box struck Moyo as the Saints struggled in-front of goal without their top scorer Steve Diggin.
They were made to pay when Celtic re-took the lead on 56 minutes. Simm did excellently to work his way to the by-line and though McKenna got the ball stuck under his feet Joyce smashed home to delight the majority of the 401 crowd inside Bower Fold.
Stalybridge had let a 5-2 lead slip to draw 5-5 with AFC Telford United in their last home match so a slender one-goal lead wasn’t going to be enough to calm the nerves of the home faithful. They may have been able to breathe slightly easier when with 15 to play they doubled their advantage.
Adam Farrell had taken many long-throws in the match with limited success but finally one had the desired effect when Mudimu volleyed beyond Hornby after Graham had inadvertently flicked on from Farrell’s throw.
Brackley were now a shambles, lacking in ideas much to the displeasure of Kevin Wilkin who looked a forlorn figure in the away dugout. He watched on as Mudimu shanked wide after Simm laid into his path before Dale Wright nodded inches wide of the visitor’s goal.
With just seconds of stoppage time remaining Watson withdrew Simm, the sponsor’s man of the match, to take the applause of the home support. You’d find it hard to find a spectator who didn’t believe he was the difference between the sides, harassing the Saints defenders at every opportunity, converting what was his only real chance and creating the crucial second goal which gave Celtic a lead they would never relinquish.
Brackley will be distraught to have lost a game in which they had 10 more shots than their opposition but the basic facts are they conceded with every shot on target Stalybridge had. They spurned several great chances and wasted numerous great positions. Had Diggin, the fifth top scorer in the whole division, been on the pitch rather than in the stands it could have been a different story, but as it is they have fallen into the relegation zone with seven games remaining. Stalybridge are up to 15th.
Stalybridge: McMillan (C), Wylie, Wisdom, Shaw, Higgins, Chalmers (Mudimu ’46), Joyce, Wright, Simm (Burns ’90), Farrell, Chippendale (McKenna ’46)
Unusued substitutes: Crowley, Tames
Booked: Chippendale, Wright.
Brackley: Hornby, English, McDonald (Morley ’85), Clarke (C), Graham, Austin, Winters (Batchelor ’71), Lowe, Ndlovu, Moyo, Walker.
Unused substitutes: Mills, Odhiambo, Slade.
Referee: Ms S. Garratt
By Jordan Davies at Bower Fold