Boston United’s hopes of ending the day second in the National League North were horribly dashed as they suffered their first-ever home defeat against Stalybridge Celtic.
Goals from Chris Simm, Steve Tames and Dale Wright settled the contest where, for the second match in a row, the Pilgrims’ inability to convert good chances proved costly.
Shooting practice may well be high on the agenda in training this week as Dennis Greene’s side failed to find the net in back-to-back games, the damning statistic being that only two of their 12 shots were on target.
But the game’s turning point wasn’t another effort which flew behind Tony McMillan’s goal but a moment of uncharacteristic madness from United stopper Fabian Spiess.
With the Pilgrims a goal down and the half time whistle set to blow, the keeper fluffed a routine clearance, allowing Stalybridge to double their advantage and leave the home side with a mountain the climb.
This was Celtic’s first win in Boston and their first victory against United in eight attempts - their last win coming at Bower Fold in December 2011.
And with second-placed North Ferriby going down 1-0 at home to Harrogate, this really was a chance missed.
The Pilgrims handed debuts to Stephane Ngamvoulou and Joe Burgess, who both linked up with the club on Thursday evening.
But there was no place in the squad for Dayle Southwell, the club’s 15-goal leading scorer.
Despite returning to training in midweek following a lay-off for a broken metatarsal, his foot remained sore and he had nto sit out his seventh contest in a row, joining Zak Mills, Richard Jones and the ill Dylan McEvoy on the list of players unavailable for selection.
Knowing that victory could see them move up to second in the National League North table, the Pilgrims began by taking the game to Celtic, encouraged by the space left available to them down the wings.
Ngamvoulou, who scored early on at the Jakmemans Stadium while on loan for Hednesford last month, was close to converting a Grant Roberts cross, only for an offside flag to halt proceedings.
Kaine Felix then saw himself charging down on goal after meeting Mark Jones’ clever flicked pass, but after beating the onrushing Tony McMillan to the ball he could only poke his effort wide of the mark.
But it was Celtic who opened the scoring, Simm making the most of United’s inabillity to clear a corner and rifling his effort through the packed penalty area before turning away in celebration, cupping his hands to his ear as the Jakemans Stadium fell to silence.
Going behind only spurred the Pilgrims on but, as happened in the 1-0 defeat at Gloucester, good chances were squandered.
A well worked free kick saw Roberts slip in Lewis Hilliard, only for the attacker to rattle the crossbar.
The two new boys then combined but as Ngamvoulou met Burgess’ cross he somehow prodded over from close range, before Roberts lashed an effort off target when well-placed.
In a rare Stalybridge chance, United’s Fabian Spiess had to get down quickly when the ball landed to Bohan Dixon, the keeper doing enough to push the strike over his bar.
At the other end, McMillan did well to save Hilliard’s low strike, the chance created by Ngamvoulou’s powerful, challenge-shrugging run and clever cross-field pass.
Things went from bad to worse in the final minute of the first half when Spiess gifted Celtic a second goal.
After miscuing a routine clearance the keeper saw Tames nip in and slot the ball into the unguarded net.
Spiess initially thought about hauling the striker to the ground, but with no keeper on the bench he made the right decision.
United began the second half knowing that an early would put them right back in the contest, instead they found nthemselves 3-0 down.
Ngamvoulou had mis-hit an effort on goal before Dale Wright made it 3-0 in the 58th minute with a curling 25-yard free kick which flew beyond Spiess’ dive.
With the match appearing lost, Hilliard attempted to reduce the arrears with a free kick of his own, only for McMillan to save comfortably, while headers from Carl Piergianni and Scott Garner both missed the target.
Celtic could have added to their tally as Jack Higins’ header and Aidan Chippendale’s strike both struck the United bar.
BUFC: Spiess, Burgess, Garner, Piergianni, Marrs, Roberts, Ngamvoulou, Venney (Rollins 69), Felix, M. Jones, Hilliard; Subs (not used): Johnson, Evans, Lavelle-Moore, Sands.
CELTIC: McMillan, Wylie, Higgins, Hughes, Wisdom, Dixon, Wright, Farrell (Burns 90), Mudimu, Simm (Chippendale 75), Tames (Johnson 83); Subs (not used): Crowley, Shaw.
Ref: Alf Greenwood.
Att: 1,202 (8).