ON AN extraordinary day for Hamilton Accies, one which casts fresh doubt over Ronny Deila’s credibility as Celtic manager, Ali Crawford wrote his name into the folklore of the Lanarkshire club alongside that of Adrian Sprott.
Just as Sprott’s winner in the shock Scottish Cup victory over Rangers at Ibrox in 1987 is recalled with reverence by a generation of their supporters, so Crawford’s goal which secured three points at Celtic Park yesterday will be talked about in misty-eyed delight by those who witnessed it.
It gave Hamilton their first win at the ground for 76 years and leaves Alex Neil’s hugely impressive young team, promoted through the play-offs last season, sitting proudly at the top of the Scottish Premiership.
Just as startlingly, Celtic lie in sixth place, six points behind Accies. Even though they have a game in hand, this was another feckless display under Deila’s guidance, which can only deepen the suspicions of those who believe the Norwegian coach is out of his depth as Neil Lennon’s successor.
But no credit should be taken from Hamilton, who were true to Neil’s declared intention of adopting a positive approach at the home of the champions. That much was clear within the opening 40 seconds when the visitors might easily have taken the lead.
Left-back Stephen Hendrie surged deep into Celtic territory and got the better of Efe Ambrose to whip the ball invitingly across the face of the six-yard box. Dougie Imrie looked well placed for a simple close-range finish but instead merely executed a fresh air swipe. There was still danger for Celtic before Emilio Izaguirre managed to scramble the ball clear under pressure from Mickael Antoine-Curier.
With Grant Gillespie deployed in a holding midfield role to try and track the movement of Celtic playmaker Kris Commons, there was a balanced look about the Accies line-up which allowed Imrie and Danny Redmond to provide support from midfield to central striker Antoine-Curier.
Tony Andreu, the French midfielder given his break in Scottish football at Livingston by current Celtic assistant manager John Collins, has been another influential contributor to Hamilton’s impressive start to the season and was next to threaten with a rising shot just over the top. By contrast, Celtic were slower to find any rhythm to their play but they should have eased the early tension in the 12th minute when John Guidetti passed up a premium chance. The Swedish striker, back in the side after being ineligible for the Europa League tie against Dinamo Zagreb on Thursday night, was sent clear by Scott Brown’s headed pass but dragged a right-foot shot wide.
Celtic gradually began to dominate territory and possession, although Accies remained a threat, as they showed when Craig Gordon was forced into his first save of the afternoon, holding Danny Redmond’s 25-yard shot with reasonable comfort. It was McGovern who was forced into more spectacular action at the other end when he displayed fine reactions to dive to his left and claw away Jason Denayer’s header after the Accies defence failed to clear a corner by Anthony Stokes.
That sparked the first spell of sustained pressure from Celtic but they lacked the necessary guile or incisiveness to make it count. They also looked increasingly vulnerable to the counter-attack and the selfless Antoine-Curier almost took advantage just before half-time when he broke free of Denayer but saw his shot deflected wide by the covering challenge of Virgil van Dijk.
The frustration of the home support intensified dramatically within the first four minutes of the second half when Celtic missed a simple chance at one end of the pitch then conceded the opener at the other.
Stokes was the culprit in wasting Celtic’s opportunity, shooting tamely straight at McGovern from close range after being played in by Stefan Johansen. Accies immediately countered with pace and intent, Hendrie again venturing forward down the left. When Ambrose failed to cut out his pass, the ball broke to Crawford who drove a low shot beyond Gordon from just inside the penalty area, despite van Dijk’s attempt to block it.
McGovern made a fine save to deny Commons, then Denayer’s close-range header was blocked on the line by Crawford as Celtic frantically tried to find a rapid response. But there was a lack of conviction and cohesion to their attacking work and their supporters were not impressed by Deila’s attempts to improve it.
A crescendo of jeers greeted his decision to withdraw Guidetti from the action, replacing him with Leigh Griffiths, as the fans clearly regarded Stokes as the villain of this particular piece.
That impression was hardened by Stokes’ wastefulness in the 69th minute when he headed wide from close range after being picked out by Griffiths’ cross.
Although Hamilton were now being hemmed into their own half for long periods, they managed to create chances to increase their lead and almost did so when substitute Louis Longridge’s shot was deflected narrowly wide of Gordon’s left-hand post.
There was an unmistakable desperation about Celtic’s play in the closing stages. Their best chance of an equaliser fell to Stokes in the 88th minute but his wretched day continued when he somehow headed substitute Aleksandar Tonev’s cross wide from a couple of yards. Celtic even threw Gordon forward into attack for the final 30 seconds but Accies held out for a victory they will cherish for many years to come.
Celtic: Gordon, Ambrose, Denayer, van Dijk, Izaguirre, Brown, Johansen, Wakaso (Tonev 61), Commons, Stokes, Guidetti (Griffiths 61). Subs not used: Zaluska, Kayal, Scepovic, Berget, O’Connell. Booked: S Johansen, M Wakaso.
Hamilton: McGovern, Gordon, Devlin, Garcia Tena, Hendrie, Imrie, Andreu (Lyon 88), Gillespie, Redmond (Longridge 57), Crawford, Antoine-Curier (Ryan 89). Subs not used: Scotland, Neil, Brophy, Hill. Booked: G Gillespie
Ref: S McLean