BOSTON UNITED 0 STALYBRIDGE CELTIC 1: Pilgrims pay the penalty on opening day

Lamin Colley.
Lamin Colley.

Boston United’s new-look squad begun their National League North campaign with defeat - but quite how is anybody’s guess.

A wasted penalty, poor deliveries and a superb goalkeeping display from the visitors’ Tony McMillan combined to ensure the Pilgrims kicked off their campaign with defeat against 10 men at the Jakemans Stadium.

United had never lost at home to Celtic before last season’s 3-0 defeat - nor had they lost an opening day match at home since Margate in that Conference-winning season on 2001-02 - but Andy Owens’ first-half effort proved the difference this afternoon, justs one of two real efforts on the Boston goal.

Jay Rollins and Lewis Hilliard were the only members of the Boston starting XI with the club last season, and with 16 new signings this summer Dennis Greene’s squad will still take some time to find their rhythm.

But when McMillan wasn’t frustrating with his impressive display between the sticks, United were the masters of their own undoing.

A terrible penalty, slice clearance and at least one overhit pass with the goal the their mercy meant that there was nothing to show from a display which was, on the whole, lively, attacking and encouraging.

With Nat Brown still sidelined with his thigh injury, he joined Shane Clarke and Cameron Johnson in the stands, where the suspended Gregg Smith was also found.

Without those options, Dennis Greene started with a 4-4-2 formation, Ollie Price - who gained international clearance on Thursday following his spell in the USA - slotting in at right back with Kalern Thomas moving to the left, while Herve Pepe-Ngoma remained alongside Joe Maguire at the back.

Jay Rollins was asked to play up front alongside Lamin Colley and was often the side’s brightest spark as his pace, power and enthusiasm kept the Celtic defence on the back foot.

The first half, played out is sweltering heat, offered little by way of goalmouth action, but plenty of talking points.

Boston showed their early intent as Jason St Juste was played in by Lamin Colley, only for McMillan to get down and smother his strike.

Owens put Celtic ahead with their only effort of note in the opening 45 minutes.

Pepe-Ngoma, who looked mostly solid alongside Joe Maguire in the heart of defence, blotted his copybook when he found himself on the wrong foot as he attempted to clear a long punt forward, the ball slicing off his outstretched leg and setting the striker free on goal.

With just Dibble to beat, Owens kept his composure before placing a low strike beyond the keeper and into the far corner.

Boston were offered a way back into the game when referee Daniel Middleton adjudged that Nick Ryan had brought Colley down in the box.

New rules stipulate that a genuine attempt for the ball, even from the last man, should be deemed nothing more than a booking, with Ryan receiving a yellow, before St Juste and Chalmers joined him in the book for a bit of push and shove.

But from 12 yards Lamin Colley fluffed his lines.

Yes, three minutes had passed between the awarding of the penalty and the chance to strike at goal, but the two-step run-up and weak strike made things simple for McMillan.

Moments later and Colley almost made amends, but his goalbound effort was blocked.

Celtic were excellent in their functionality, square pegs in square holes, but Boston began the second half with more purpose.

Rollins saw a strike deflected wide before another golden opportunity went begging.

St Juste again burst through on goal but with Rollins square and a simple pass needed to offer him a free strike on goal, the final ball was needlessly overhit.

Celtic were down to 10 men when Chalmers picked up his second booking in the 57th minute, a needless chop with felled Marshall and left his side numerically disadvantaged.

Stalybridge were proving a tough nut to crack, but their high line offered chances - when the Pilgrims could stay onside - on the counter.

Another long punt saw St Juste attempt another effort from out wide, but the effort was screwed inches wide.

Substitute Waide Fairhurst came within a whisker of levelling when he collected Colley’s cross on his chest, but the effort on the spin was volleyed over.

The the board was raised to signal five minutes of time added on, Boston upped their game further.

Fairhurst saw a tight-angled drive deflected wide and a header fly over the bar, while Rollins’ dipper was tipped onto the post by McMillan.

As Boston pushed forward gaps were evident in defence, and as Liam Hynes found himself one on one with Christian Dibble, the Boston keeper stood firm to beat away the strike.

Barrow, Telford and Solihull Moors have been the last three sides to begin their away campaigns at the Jakemans Stadium, and the last three teams to be crowned champions.

Stalybridge may not end this term preparing for life in the National League, but as it stands they are three points better off than Boston.

UNITED: Dibble, Thomas, Price (Roberts 63), Hilliard, Maguire, Pepe-Ngoma, Rollins, Chippendale (Adams 86), Colley, Marshall (Fairhurst 65), St Juste; Subs (not used): Wildin, Burgess.

STALYBRIDGE: McMillan, Chalmers, Wisdom, Hughes, Ryan, Platt, Hynes, Ball, Farrell (Mukendi 68), Owens (Sherlock 84), Pilkington (Wylie 58); Subs (not used): Shaw, Tames.

Ref: Daniel Middleton.

Att: 1,023 (7).