THE clearest indication that the afternoon went pretty much to plan for Celtic was that all talk of title challenges didn’t figure in the post-match natter. Instead, what dominated was the implications of Kris Commons throwing his boots into the away end at the conclusion of an encounter he was withdrawn from ten minutes from time.
Scorers: Celtic - Matthews 34; Henderson 50
The 31-year-old attacker didn’t make a huge impression on a confrontation in which Ronny Deila’s side had to weather some early Hamilton pressure before claiming victory with two fine strikes. But by heck, Commons – whether playing well or not – seems to be continually newsworthy, largely owing to the impasse over his contract negotiations. With a two-year extension not being offered on the terms Commons seeks, it seems unlikely he will extend his stay beyond the end of his current deal, which expires in the summer. Yet, owing to the dogmatic way in which Deila downs rumours of an imminent departure, it seems equally unlikely he will be boxing up his belongings before the transfer window closes in a fortnight.
Deila certainly seems to be becoming more responsive to deploying Commons in his orthodox 4-2-3-1, and yesterday stationed him in a wide right role. The Norwegian’s rest and relaxation on the club’s winter break to Gran Canaria obviously emboldened him to spice up his team selections. That meant handing Leigh Griffiths the solo striker role, and benching John Guidetti, while retaining Liam Henderson in his midfield three.
Deila’s apparent rethink on the 18-year-old after he hardly figured in the first half of the season following his breakthrough under Neil Lennon last season looked astute when the youngster popped up with the second goal early in the second period.
His drive and desire were crucial to him pouncing onto a pass inside from Emilio Izaguirre, who gained possession on the left when Adam Matthews swung over a cross from the right. Henderson produced a first-time left-foot shot on the turn that he squeezed low in at the right-hand post of Michael McGovern.
He denied that the first half of the season had been disappointing, pointing out he had only stepped up in the last campaign once the league had been won. He did express satisfaction that his recent elevation suggests he is doing something right, though. “I’ve been working hard in training and doing that with the boys every day brings me on leaps and bounds. The manager has thrown me in when we’ve needed to win games so that’s given me even more confidence and I’m delighted to be involved,” said the midfielder, who said he and his team mates had come back refreshed from their sunshine jaunt.
Matthews certainly seems a player revitalised, and set Celtic on their way to a three points that has moved them to within two of Aberdeen with a blistering biff of a hit just after the half-hour mark. Receiving the ball on the right, he unleashed an effort that curled into the top corner. It put Celtic at ease when they had looked anything but earlier when Craig Gordon was forced into a double save, scooping away a misplaced header from his own player before thwarting Mikael Antoine-Curier’s follow-up.
The final outcome was not a source of anguish for Hamilton interim manager Martin Canning, who selected himself after sitting out the 3-2 midweek defeat to Dundee United on his management debut.
Canning was “proud” of his players’ efforts, and in all aspects of their performance with the exception of the goals conceded. In recent days Rino Gattuso and John Hartson – erroneously, according to the Welshman – have been linked with the managerial position, with the closing date for applications Wednesday. Canning adopted a curious stance when asked if he would apply. “I haven’t thought too much about it, haven’t sat down with my wife and given thought to what would be a big change for me,” he said. “It is something, as and when the question is asked, I’ll decide what way I want to go and what I think is the best for me. Until I am asked that question there is no point in me worrying, or thinking, about stuff that might never happen. I’m just going day to day.”
The fact that agents purporting to act for Gattuso and Hartson have bothered to contact Hamilton, is no issue for Canning. “It is all credit to Hamilton and a reflection on how they have gone about their business the past couple of years that the profile of the club is high enough that these guys want associated with the job. It doesn’t affect me at all.”
Hamilton: McGovern; Gillespie, Devlin, Canning, Hendrie; Routledge (Longbridge 63); Imrie (Broughy 71), MacKinnon (Redmond 82), Crawford, Andreu; Antoine-Curier. Subs not used: Hill, Watson, Docherty, Garcia Tena.
Celtic: Gordon; Matthews, Van Dijk, Denayer, Izaguirre; Biton, Brown; Henderson (McGregor 56), Johansen, Commons (Scepovic 80); Griffiths. Subs not used: Zaluska, Ambrose, Guidetti, Fisher, Thomson.
Referee: Steven McLean. Attendance: 6,007
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