After six games of tactical experimentation, mass substitutions and cries of ‘who’s he then?’ the real stuff started on Saturday at Frenchfields Stadium, the home of Penrith FC.
All the pre-season tinkering saw West Allotment Celtic start their first division one match since April 2011 with one debutant, Liam Anderson, in the centre of defence and the returning Graeme Cairns making his first appearance for the club since 2007.
The belated loss on the morning of the match of old hands John Pendlebury and David Henderson was a blow to the management team and, compounded by the unavailability of player-manager Paul Stoneman through injury, led to a new-look defensive unit and midfield set-up taking to the field in Cumbria.
Penrith had not been beaten by Celtic during ten years of Northern League campaigning, yet there were clues that the home side was far from settled too.
The Blues have lost several of their big-hitters from last season and the fact they could name only three substitutes suggested that the rebuilding job is far from complete.
Despite the fresh faces, the Cumbrians started more brightly as, not surprisingly, the visitors lacked a bit of shape in the opening minutes.
Fortunately, the early pressure brought no reward, with Ryan Beal coping comfortably with the few efforts coming within his range.
Gradually, Celtic started to test the Penrith defence too there were signs that it was less than robust.
Routine balls forward caused a rather square Blues rearguard to look less than assured and so it proved on 16 minutes when David Dormand opened his and Allotment’s account for the season.
There seemed little danger when Marc Dummett curved a ball forward from deep in his own half but it floated tantalisingly beyond the defenders and Dormand was suddenly clear. Opting not to drive on, the Celtic centre forward instantly lashed the ball goalwards from 25 yards and it caught the cross-wind beautifully to sail and dip beyond Richardson.
Penrith ought to have equalised within minutes when an incisive move down their left opened up an inviting shooting chance for Gardner but his side-foot effort was steered well wide.
Still, it was a warning for the visitors who were by far the dominant side now.
Ian Dunn and Marc Allen were grafting quietly but effectively in midfield, ably supported by Cairns and the newly-forged defensive unit.
Further forward, Dormand spear-headed the attack but was always supported by the muscular presence of Liam Hudson and Sean Reid, who was always available to head clear at the back too, despite having just completed a night shift hours before travelling to Cumbria.
In fact the main danger to Celtic was an occasion spell of over-playing in their own half, but Penrith lacked the wit to capitalise on this tendency, whereas perhaps future opponents will.
Reid almost doubled Celtic’s advantage in the 54th minute when yet more poor defending allowed him to steal forward and lift a lob over the keeper only for the ball to clatter back into play off the upright.
Penrith’s reprieve lasted seven minutes when, for the umpteenth time, the home defence failed to deal with a simple ball played forward and suddenly Dormand was yards in the clear. Time seemed to stand still as he cantered forward and he could almost have shaken hands with the keeper before he slid the ball beyond him and into the wide open goal.
That was game over as Penrith resorted to ever more desperate punts forward that Ford and Anderson dealt with comfortably and Beal’s handling was excellent when the ball come into his domain.
The proverbial icing on the Celtic cake arrived deep into injury time when substitute Mark Fenwick took advantage of yet more clueless defending to thrash a third goal from 20-plus yards via the underside of the crossbar.
The Blues argued that the ball had not crossed the line but, frankly, it was like moaning about the lack of a tissue to wipe your nose when suffering from a broken leg.
So, a bogey buried, three goals to the good and a clean sheet – not a bad start to the 2014-15 campaign.
Allotment: Beal, Cairns, Dummett, Ford, Bell, Anderson, Dunn, Allen, Dormand (Fenwick), Hudson (Sager), Reid (Chapman). Subs not used: McGlen, Below.