STALYBRIDGE CELTIC 2, STAFFORD RANGERS 0
Connor Hughes may have been Stalybridge Celtic’s goalscoring hero, but groundsman Pete Owens also deserved plaudits for the part he played in Stalybridge Celtic’s hugely important home win against Stafford Rangers.
It took a super-human effort from Owens to ensure the Evo Stik League, premier division game went ahead as snow had to be cleared from the Bower Fold pitch earlier in the day.
And Hughes, who was only signed in November, delivered his fifth and sixth goals, on a rollercoaster and freezing cold night as lowly Celtic maintained their improved form – they have lost only once in their last six league and cup games.
However at half time it was not so cheerful as the game was goalless and, with Sutton Coldfield Town beating Marine, Celtic found themselves bottom of the table.
But by the end of the night, though, the three precious points had lifted Celtic to third bottom.
And with games in hand on the teams in and around them, Celtic are well placed to make a push further away from danger.
It was a nervous opening half in which chances were far and far between for both clubs.
Liam Dickenson had a goalbound shot blocked and left-back Alex Honeyball made a weaving run before forcing a fine save from Adam Whitehouse, Celtic’s best chances.
Rangers also had clear-cut chances as Daniel Westwood guided a shot just wide while Robert Thompson-Brown was denied a certain goal by a magnificent last-gasp tackle from Tom Brown.
The deadlock was broken just short of the hour when Hughes was rewarded for his persistence.
Hughes’ initial shot was blocked by Jordaan Brown, but he barged past the centre back to the rebound and fired a low angled shot into the far corner.
And five minutes later Hughes struck again. A low cross from the left from Oli Roberts somehow found its way through a crowded goalmouth to reach Hughes at the far post for a simple tap in.
The game ought to have been won, but Celtic looked nervous in the latter stages, no doubt influenced by the large number of leads they have squandered this season.
Late on Celtic ought to have added a third goal when Dickinson beat the offside trap and cut the ball back to substitute Chris Gallagher who fired wide when he ought to have found the net.
Celtic: Walton, Crowley, Honeyball, Brown, Ashworth, Morton, Bailey-Jones (Ramsden 88), Roberts (Gallagher 73), Dickinson, Wolfenden (Wilkinson 68), Hughes. Subs (not used): Charles, Taylor.