OH HOW Celtic will wish to dominate a team playing in black and blue stripes on Thursday in the manner they did yesterday. As one-sided as it was, this was a fascinating duel between two teams at opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of confidence levels.
Scorers: Commons (57, 82), Johansen (64), Guidetti (78)
Celtic were able to top up theirs prior to this Thursday’s trip to the San Siro.
But Hamilton Accies need not feel too dejected as they reflect on eight games without a victory. After all, even Inter Milan, whose famous colours they adopted yesterday, conceded only one fewer goal here a few days ago. And unlike Hamilton, the Italians were unable to hold out until half-time.
Hamilton were responsible for upping the pulse rate across Aberdeenshire as they frustrated the champions for nearly an hour. But in the tit-for-tat exchanges between Celtic and Aberdeen at the top of the table, Ronny Deila’s side again answered the challenge set by their title rivals’ 3-0 win over St Mirren the previous afternoon.
It sets up the prospect of Celtic, who have a game in hand, potentially going six points clear this weekend if they can beat Aberdeen in Sunday’s eagerly-awaited clash. Kris Commons returned to the side after injury to begin and then complete the scoring in a second-half in which Celtic finally gained their reward for almost constant pressure.
John Guidetti also scored his first league goal since November to follow up his stunning late equaliser in Celtic’s Europa League first-leg clash with Internazionale on Thursday. Stefan Johansen was Celtic’s other goalscorer as he continued his run of good form. There was, then, much to please Deila at the start of such a momentous seven-day period.
Leigh Griffiths and Gary Mackay-Steven remained on the bench throughout, with Thursday’s trip to Italy in mind. Stuart Armstrong stretched his legs in a 30-minute cameo after his efforts in the 3-3 draw with Internazionale last week.
Anthony Stokes was spotted in a corridor before the match with a face like thunder. Although in Celtic tracksuit, he had again been left out of the match day squad following problems associated with his late return from a trip to Dublin last week. He is already becoming a forgotten man figure at Celtic Park as his team-mates show what they can do without him.
Yesterday provided some further food for thought for Deila as Commons, among others, played himself into contention for operation San Siro. Guidetti, too, might seem a better fit than the slightly more lightweight Griffiths to fill the lone-man striker role in Milan.
Before kick-off yesterday, Celtic were seeking to maintain the buoyant atmosphere generated by their comeback against Internazionale four days earlier. Hamilton, meanwhile, were desperately hoping to feel the benefit of a belated new-manager bounce following Martin Canning’s appointment. It hadn’t been noticeable in their previous seven matches, five of which they have lost.
A combination of doggedness by Hamilton and relentless, freezing drizzle made the inevitable “come-down” after Thursday’s drama more marked. Poor weather helped keep numbers down inside the ground but there were still enough people present at Celtic Park to summon forth a slight grumble when the half-time whistle sounded, and with the scoreline still 0-0.
This was as far from the emotional roller-coaster of a few days earlier as it was possible to get. But credit to Hamilton for making life difficult for Celtic. And credit to Celtic for eventually overcoming their opponents’ obdurate resistance to seal the victory they required to answer Aberdeen’s own win.
Hamilton had done what Internazionale failed to do on Thursday by frustrating the home side up until the interval. Somehow, despite almost constant Celtic pressure, the score remained goalless.
It isn’t normally much fun watching one side almost completely dominate another but, as a study in how much pressure a team can be reasonably expected to absorb, yesterday’s contest was compelling at times. Even though Celtic had so much more possession, they made only a limited number of clear openings in the opening half as Hamilton dug in impressively.
Michael McGovern was called upon to make blocks in the opening minutes, including one fine block from a James Forrest effort at the back post. But bizarrely, a freakish deflection was as near as Celtic came to scoring when a Michael Devlin clearance cannoned off Guidetti and forced McGovern into making a save.
Simply breaking free from their own half was the limit of Hamilton’s ambitions. However, they were almost gifted a chance to score by Emilio Izaguirre’s strange decision to try a back-heel to Scott Brown while attempting to deal with a rare Nigel Hasselbaink break forward. Brown managed to mop up the danger and then, in no uncertain manner, let his team-mate know that with the scoreline still goalless, Celtic could ill-afford such casualness.
But the sides were not level for much longer.
Hamilton were forced to make a substitution when the injured Grant Gillespie was replaced by Darren Lyon, who, just on, was unable to clear the danger following Virgil van Dijk’s surging run. The Dutch defender’s lay-off set up Commons and he rifled the ball underneath McGovern from an angle. Hamilton had held out for 58 minutes but now the dam was breached, you feared for them.
Van Dijk was the architect of the second goal after 64 minutes when McGovern failed to hold his shot, with Johansen able to sweep in the rebound. Johansen had also just hit a shot that struck a post as Celtic threatened to engulf Hamilton.
A straightforward header from an Izaguirre cross by Guidetti made it three. With Hamilton longing to hear the final whistle, Commons turned in an Adam Matthews cross before embarking on a “rowing boat” celebration with Guidetti, perhaps to mark the sudden, and, from their point of view, supremely welcome flood of goals.
Celtic: Gordon, Ambrose, Denayer (Matthews 46), Van Dijk, Izaguirre, Brown, Biton, Johansen (Henderson 79), Commons, Forrest (Armstrong 59), Guidetti. Subs Not Used: Mackay-Steven,Zaluska,
Hamilton Academical: McGovern, Gordon (Longridge 46), Canning (Tagliapietra 83), Devlin, Hendrie, MacKinnon, Gillespie (Lyon 55), Routledge, Crawford, Imrie, Hasselbaink. Subs Not Used: Scotland, Brophy, Redmond,Hill.