Hamilton 0 - 1 Celtic: Early James Forrest strike eases league leaders past Accies
It also gave Celtic an early lead in a game that could not have been further removed from their last outing at Ibrox. These were far less intense, if still extremely tricky, circumstances. While not at their best in the blustery conditions Celtic again found a way to win.
Neil Lennon was content to focus on what the result meant rather than the manner of victory. “Five wins out of five, which we have not done for a long time at the start of the season,” mentioned the manager. Not since 2010-11 have they managed this – when Lennon was also in charge.
Celtic go into Thursday’s first Europa League group game against Rennes in good heart and, perhaps just as importantly, in good shape. Only Nir Bitton and Mikey Johnston, who both missed yesterday’s match due to injury, are definitely out while new left back Greg Taylor will undergo a fitness test on Monday to see whether he can travel to France.
There was one scare towards the end yesterday when centre-half Christopher Jullien stayed down after a clash of heads with Hamilton substitute Marios Ogkmpoe. But he was eventually helped to his feet and resumed the game, if a little unsteadily. “I have just spoken to him and he thought I was Boris Becker!” said Lennon later.
While the injury is not thought to be serious, the delay required to treat it almost did prove significant because it contributed to the time added on at the end. It was during this spell that Hamilton came closest to equalising when Ogkmpoe just failed to make contact with Scott McMann’s cross from the left.
Lewis Smith helped drag his side back into the game. The 19-year-old seemed to be doing it alone at times as he kept possession and shrugged off challenges from the likes of Scott Brown in a manner that underlined his potential. He succeeded in getting his team up the pitch during what was a far more even second half.
“Over-charging the fans, under-selling the game,” read a banner at the Celtic end. The first complaint was certainly valid if the fare of the opening 45 minutes was anything to go by. Celtic were guilty of being over-elaborate at times. Left-back Boli Bolingoli is a Celtic cult-hero-in-the-making and got forward well while also tripping over the ball and on one occasion letting it trundle under his foot when in a promising position.
Celtic seemed to be treating it almost like a training game at times. Their failure to build on the early lead given to them by Forrest was not down to them missing chances since they were not even creating them. Hamilton keeper Owain Fon Williams barely had a save to make in the first half other than being left helpless when Forrest was rewarded for an astute run to the front post to meet debutant Mohamed Elyounoussi’s cut-back from the left after four minutes.
Elyounoussi started brightly but faded and was replaced by Tom Rogic after 67 minutes. He was involved in the passage of play that saw Celtic almost extinguish Hamilton’s spirited comeback before it got going. Elyounoussi’s shot six minutes after half-time was blocked by Markus Fjortoft and Forrest picked up the rebound to send in a shot from just inside the box which came down off the bar and back out again.
Thereafter it was Hamilton who carved out the better chances, specifically Ogkmpoe, who as well as that header opportunity at the end also pulled a shot wide of Fraser Forster’s far post. Blair Alston saw a shot clear the bar after 70 minutes.
“My biggest concern was us not having belief as individuals but I saw today to a man they had,” said home manager Brian Rice. “Losing an early goal to Celtic is criminal. But the response I got was immense. We kept to the game plan – keep in the game as long as possible.”
Rice freshened things up early in the second half when replacing George Oakley with Ogympoe. He later switched from five at the back to four and pushed two up front. “I don’t think anyone can say we didn’t try to score a goal but you have to find a way against Celtic,” he said.