Celtic fate sealed by Beckett

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The Independent Online

The FA Cup may sometimes be the great leveller, but most of the time it merely serves to demonstrate that the intricate English class system is alive and well at every level.

The FA Cup may sometimes be the great leveller, but most of the time it merely serves to demonstrate that the intricate English class system is alive and well at every level.

Chester City are propping up the Nationwide League but, despite the advantage of playing at their own little Bower Fold ground, the gap from the Unibond League finally proved too wide for Celtic to bridge.

Yet for 70 minutes of this second-round tie there was a distinct possibility that Greater Manchester would have its full compliment of teams in tonight's third-round draw. Manchester United may have opted out in favour of some Johnny-come-lately competition in Brazil, but Stalybridge, their neighbours, have formed a stronger attachment to the world's oldest tournament.

This match was their eighth in this year's competition, which was more than United played in winning the trophy last season, but their hopes of reaching a round at which the big boys enter for the first time in their history were dashed as Chester pulled rank after an early scare.

It was 1935 when Stalybridge last entertained a football league side at their cosy ground tucked into a cleft of the Pennines, but they began as though, like riding a bike, it is something you don't easily forget.

The part-timers went in for the kill from the start and struck after only eight minutes. Andy Scott, whose pace and control down the left from midfield should have come as no surprise to the Third Division side as he once plied his trade with Rochdale, received the ball from Steve Jones on the edge of the penalty area and, as Chester's static defenders watched, made sufficient space to flick the ball over the goalkeeper Wayne Brown into the roof of the net.

But for underdogs to score so early in a cup tie is always a mixed blessing and even sides whose confidence is as low as Chester's are spurred to show ambition when faced with the prospect of being dumped out of the cup by minnows. Aided by Celtic's propensity to give the ball away and to fall back in numbers, Chester slowly asserted themselves. But for some wayward shooting and an inspired performance by Gary Ingham in the Stalybridge goal, they might have begun their recovery sooner than they did.

Their captain, Nick Richardson, and Matthew Doughty hoisted efforts over the stand into the surrounding woods and Ingham saved well from Doughty and Luke Beckett before Chester's pressure paid off on the stroke of half-time.

The Stalybridge defender Eddie Johnston, who had already been booked, was lucky to stay on after bringing down Darren Moss, but a more severe punishment followed from the resulting free-kick. Doughty picked out Jonathan Cross, whose shot struck a defender before crossing the line.

Their pride restored, Chester began stroking the ball about with the confidence a League side might expect to exhibit against opponents for whom having played in the Conference is something of a social cachet, but even so they were lucky to avoid further embarrassment.

Brown clung on to a shot from Stalybridge's leading scorer, Winfield Steele, only at the second attempt and had to scramble back to retrieve the situation after the substitute Tony Sullivan beat him to a long ball.

But Chester's patience was rewarded again in the 70th minute when Martin Nash crossed from the left and Beckett was unmarked in the six-yard box to score with a header.

The substitute, Martin Filson, wasted Celtic's best chance of earning a replay, but if their respective league form is any guide, the sides may meet again - in the Conference next season.

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