THE Hoops returned to winning ways last Saturday when they beat Banbridge Town 3-0 in a game played in front of a sizable crowd at a sundrenched Knockramer Park.
With several of the more experienced players missing Celtic gave a first start to Shannon Drainey, recently signed from Loughall, in central defence and with Ciaran McEvoy, Brendan Mackin, Conor McAnallen and Steven Boyd absent they also had a young subs bench to choose from.
Celtic started off the brighter and put some good moves together with Daniel Ryan, Raymond Fitzpatrick and Stefan Campbell looking alert aided by Niall Lavery, Ryan Murphy and Aaron Haire from midfield setting up some dangerous attacks. Fitzpatrick was unlucky to see a header just go over at the 10 minute mark and as the visitors pushed in an early raid Declan McVeigh, Drainey and young Michael Toland dealt with the danger.
The Hoops took the lead on 20 minutes when a ball was played out of defence and Murphy fastened unto it, he took the ball up to the right hand side of the area and crossed for Fitzpatrick who although surrounded by three Banbridge players, stole a half yard to net from six yards. Stung by this reverse the visitors went at the home defence but could find no way through until on the half hour former Hoops favourite Steven McArdle crahed a fine effort against the inside of the post with keeper Fox well beaten.
The Celtic defence quickly cleared playing the ball at pace up the left where Fitzpatrick took it inside and saw a goalbound shot clip a defender to just clear the bar and from the resultant corner Campbell had a fierce drive cannon off a defender as it looked destined for the top left corner. Shortly after this Ryan fed Campbell who fired narrowly over the bar and the Banbridge defenders breathed a sigh of relief having survived some serious pressure.
Banbridge then came more into the game towards the interval and after being awarded a free kick right on the 18 yard line in front of goal they were denied an equaliser when Fox in the Celtic goal made a sensational double save. After seeing the ball late he parried it away and in the follow up turned a shot from point blank range away for a corner. Right on the whistle the visitors had another free kick and the Hoops keeper was once more up to the task of keeping his goal intact to leave the score 1-0 at the break.
Celtic started the second half in attacking mode and had a goal disallowed when Fitzpatrick headed a free kick into the net, but he was adjudged to have impeded Wilson in the Banbridge goal and later in the half had anothr one disallowed for the same reason although most spectators felt there was little contact. The Hoops extended the lead on 65 minutes when Lavery hit a free kick from the left and with Ryan and Fitzpatrick closing in the keeper was distracted and the ball ended up in the far corner of the net.
Shortly after this McGrath hit a tremendous shot from 25 yards which flew past the Celtic post, but this was the last attempt on goal the visitors would have as Celtic tightened their grip on the game and Drainey and Lavery both came close with goalbound efforts. The Hoops finished the game as a contest on 83 minutes when the hard working Ryan outpaced the defence down the left and fed the ball to Haire who cut inside was unlucky to shoot against the far post but Fitzpatrick was quickest to react and slammed home to finish the scoring at 3-0 to Celtic.