There is that old footballing cliche, that says a team can look back over a grueling fixture list, and pin point a game where the season was decided. And, often that particular game is against your fiercest rivals, which is usually the first game you circle on the calendar.
For Celtic, after a patch of barren results, last weekends game against Sierra Stars, was where the season's fate would be sealed. Win, and you live to fight another day, hopeful of being touted once again as title contenders. Lose, and the season ends in premature disappointment.
There may well be plenty of more action still to come Celtic's way, as we are only about halfway through the TSSL season, but the stakes couldn't be higher. And with a game with such huge ramifications, time seemed to stand still, Canadian Geese delayed their migration and people fornicating in the bushes, looked on impatiently, as Celtic took to the field in front of a full capacity crowd. Basically, a picnic bench, a couple of subs, and an intimidating Sierra Stars entourage, but use your imagination.
Curley, keen to make up for the previous weekends misfiring, kicked off the first half for Celtic, sporting new footwear, freshly imported from England just moments before the game commenced. However, the presence of the outrageously coloured boots, which Nike claim to be orange, but I would more accurately describe as salmon pink, were to be short lived. Such was Curley's vanity, that multiple layers of socks and sole inserts would not be enough to save the doomed cat walk, and sensibly Curley was soon on the bench changing back in to his more familiar, reassuringly bland footwear.
For the first time it what seems like an eternity, Celtic were almost at full strength, giving Tibby a welcomed selection headache, and a chance to observe matters from the side lines. Monaghan had made a miraculous recovery from the "golf ball" sized injury to his brow only a couple of weeks earlier, Teague was fully fit and Celtic had the luxury of the formidable defensive partnership of Mercier and Stuckmann once again.
So, with an embarrassment of talented riches, Celtic soon got into there groove, confidently knocking the ball about, patiently looking for an opening, while Sierra looked predictable as all there play would go through the talented number 10, that McCallum had in his pocket all day. I always enjoying seeing personal battles develop on the field, and McCallum with sheer dogged determination was winning this particular one, demonstrated by the numbers 10 constant appeals to the ref.
At the opposite end of the field, Celtic's number 19 (who could that be I wonder?) was doing more than his share of referee harassment, and such was the gobby and at times idiotic behaviour, that Tibby threatened to withdraw the striker if the petulance persisted. What can I say, Sierra brings out the best in me!
The first half would end 0-0, but Celtic looked comfortable, and capable of pushing on in the second half in order to get the results they craved. And with the restart, Celtic almost broke the deadlock moments in to the second half. Teague anticipated an awkward pass across the Sierra back line and duly robbed the centre back as he hesitated in possession. Still some 35 yards from goal and with the covering defender closing in, Teague's second touch dragged him wide of the goal and leaving too much work to do. Unfortunately the final shot lacked power and the accuracy, but it was definitely a warning sign to Sierra.
With the Sierra attack still looking relatively toothless, Celtic continued to press for the elusive goal, and next it was utility man Chisholm's turn to test the Sierra resolve. Chisholm latched on to a neat chip over the Sierra defense, and from a tight angle, unleashed a stinging half volley, but the Sierra Goalkeeper was equal to it, and parried away.
Celtic were not to be disappointed though, and eventually all of their hard work would be rewarded. After some good work down the Celtic left wing was brought to an abrupt end, the referee finally saw sense and awarded a rare freekick dangerously positioned on the corner of the Sierra box. The freekick was whipped in to the danger area, and Curley, with his shooting boots back on, effortlessly plucked the ball out of the air with his back to goal, pirouetted and ruthlessly smashed home a priceless goal in front of the ecstatic crowd.
The joyous scenes, however would soon turn in to utter despair. Not long after taking a much deserved lead, Celtics game would be turned on its head. A hopeful punt forward by Sierra enticed Fourie off his line, and out of the security of his box. With the ball bouncing, and unable to use his hands, Fourie was forced in to a sweepers roll, but could only head a short distance, where knowingly the Sierra striker was waiting to pounce. The Sierra striker picked his spot, and lobbed the ball towards the top corner.
What happened next would have even the Question of Sport pundits baffled......
With Fourie now helplessly looking on, caught in no man's land, Mercier scurried back towards goal, and with the ball dipping towards the top corner, took the law in to his own hands, leaped like a salmon out of water and majestically tipped the ball over the bar. Such was the height and stretch of the leap, it looked like Mercier had cleared the bar. Which, was soon to be Mercier's only line of defense, as the ref fumbled around for what we all had feared. The red card was brandished and Sierra were given a life line.
After the custom Sierra squabbling, a penalty taker was eventually selected, and the player who apparently never misses a penalty confidently stepped up. For Fourie, this season it had become second nature facing penalties, but he decided against the usual Grobbelaar wobbly legs and opted for another Liverpool legend's tactics in Jerzy Dudek's star jumps.
The decision to emulate Dudek paid off, as Fourie dived the right way, proving once again, that beating the Durban stopper, from 12 yards is by no means a full gone conclusion. The game pivoted on this moment, and for all the decision that had gone against Celtic, justice was finally served, which sent the much relieved onlooking bench into raptures.
Despite surviving the penalty, Celtic still had another 10 nervous minutes to endure with only 10 men on the pitch. Sierra failed to take advantage of their numerical difference though, and remained impotent in front of goal, never fully recovering from the penalty miss.
This was to be Celtic's day, and they deservedly clinched a huge 3 points against a previously unbeaten Sierra Stars. With Celtic delivering the much needed win, they will not lightly rest on their Laurels, as next week produces a double header in the shape of Zoomer, and a chance of revenge for Sierra.....tickets are selling fast!!