Celtic signalled their intent to resume normal service in the title race as they closed to within a point of faltering leaders Aberdeen at the top of the Scottish Premiership.
But while Ronny Deila’s side took full advantage of their Pittodrie rivals’ stunning home defeat at the hands of St Johnstone on Saturday, this was a far from convincing display against a Hamilton Accies outfit who will feel frustrated at their failure to take anything from a closely-contested Sunday lunchtime affair.
An upset appeared to be on the cards when Gramoz Kurtaj put Martin Canning’s men in front after just four minutes but Celtic found the necessary response as they hit back with goals from Dedryck Boyata and the in-form Leigh Griffiths before half-time.
It was Griffiths’ 12th goal of the season and proved enough to condemn Accies to their first home defeat since February.
Given that this assignment came just three days after Celtic’s draining 2-2 draw with Fenerbahce in the Europa League, Deila is entitled to simply be content at gathering all three points.
It was a year to the day since Accies had pulled off their first win at Celtic Park since 1938, a result which sent them briefly to the top of the table last season and raised serious questions of Deila’s early stewardship of the champions.
Twelve months on, the Norwegian coach endured an uncomfortable opening spell to this contest before Celtic took command.
Accies were bright and energetic in a frenetic start which saw both goalkeepers forced into saves – Michael McGovern denying Griffiths and Craig Gordon holding a Dougie Imrie shot – before the hosts took their early lead.
It was another in a lengthening list of defensive calamities for Celtic this season. In the absence of the suspended Efe Ambrose and injured Jozo Simunovic, it was left to Boyata and Tyler Blackett to form their latest central defensive pairing.
Both men were at fault as a harmless looking long ball caused needless panic. Blackett missed his attempt to head it clear, then Boyata was all too easily outmuscled by Kurtaj who strode into the penalty area and drilled a fine right-foot finish beyond Gordon.
Blackett and Boyata were troubled by the physical presence and solid technique of Accies’ lone striker Carlton Morris who regularly caught the eye before running out of steam in the second half. The on-loan Norwich City player was being watched by his parent club’s manager Alex Neil who was back at New Douglas Park for the afternoon.
Celtic took some time to recover their composure and Ziggy Gordon was agonisingly close to doubling Hamilton’s lead, the full-back having to stretch just too far as he connected with Ali Crawford’s corner at the far post.
With the visitors finding it difficult to break down a disciplined Accies side in open play, it was a set piece which provided them with their 26th minute equaliser.
Brazilian defender Lucas conceded the free-kick with a clumsy foul on Saidy Janko in a dangerous position. Griffiths produced an excellent delivery from the right and the ball was side-footed home from close range by Boyata.
Celtic suddenly had some momentum and they took the lead five minutes later. Tom Rogic picked out Janko’s surge down the right and the Celtic right-back sent over a cross which took a slight deflection on its way to Griffiths at the back post. The striker met it sweetly with a cleverly directed header, the ball beating McGovern to his left.
Celtic were unable to press home the advantage in a second half which saw Accies look just as likely to equalise as the visitors did to stretch their lead.
Grant Gillespie came close with a firmly struck shot from 20 yards which flew just wide of Gordon’s right-hand post. The Celtic keeper was also required to make a fine save to parry a netbound Crawford shot with Morris unable to find the target from close range with the rebound.
Substitute Gary Mackay-Steven almost gave Celtic the comfort of a third goal in stoppage time, shooting narrowly wide after racing clear on the counter-attack, which would have been extremely harsh on Accies.
HAMILTON: McGovern, Gordon, Garcia Tena, Tagliapietra, Kurakins, Gillespie, Imrie (D’Acol 82), MacKinnon, Crawford (Docherty 74), Kurtaj, Morris (Nade 69). Subs Not Used: Sendles-White, Longridge, Lyon, Martin.
CELTIC: Gordon, Janko (Lustig 76), Boyata, Blackett, Izaguirre, Bitton, Brown, Commons, Rogic (Mackay-Steven 76), Forrest (Armstrong 64), Griffiths. Subs Not Used: Ciftci, Bailly, McGregor, Tierney.