Brendan Rodgers seems to find a way to do most things in this anointed first season at Celtic. The 31st win of his team’s 32-game unbeaten season appeared hardly one to commemorate – Moussa Dembele’s gorgeous opener apart – but he found a way to do that too.
In reflecting on an afternoon when his team dusted up Hamilton with the help of some Dembele dazzle, the 44-year-old heralded largely solid efforts by fusing them to a hitherto-unknown anniversary.
“I said to the players before the game that it’s almost 20 years to the day since I first qualified as a coach and over those 20 years I’ve watched and read, been involved in hundreds of games and what I’ve learned in that period is the greatest principle you can have is denying the opponent space,” Rodgers said.
“And how the players counter-pressed the game today, didn’t allow Hamilton to make any sequence of passes – and they have some real technical players – deserves real credit in terms of how hard they are working. They are so many points  ahead and they still show that desire and hunger to close the space.”
Such technical intricacies were overshadowed by another Dembele show. After the Premiership’s bottom side provided stubborn resistance for 44 minutes, it felt as if the 20-year-old Frenchman decided he had enough when, wrongside to the goal, he produced an exquisite drag back to turn him round and away from Massimo Donati and send him galloping towards the box. As he reached it, he wrapped his foot around the ball and sent a curling, clinical effort into the top left-hand corner of Garry Wood’s net.
For his next trick, he simply converted a penalty awarded after Kieran Tierney had caught Donati’s outstretched leg on the hour mark, but the forward did so with aplomb. A third hat-trick, and 12th goal in seven matches then looked on the cards but with 20 minutes remaining Rodgers introduced a fit-again Leigh Griffiths for only his second brief appearance in 2017.
Rodgers maintained the switch did not leave Dembele miffed at having to wait till at least Wednesday’s encounter with Inverness to break the 30-goal mark in this wondrous season for the forward recruited from Fulham for £500,000, even if his slumped-shouldered trudge towards the tunnel might have suggested otherwise.
“The boy oozes quality; he absolutely oozes quality and for a 20-year-old to see the improvements he’s making is just fantastic,” said the Celtic manager. “I thought he looked alright [going off] he was milking the applause, he was enjoying it.
“He’s a striker, he wanted the hat-trick and what not. But like I’ve said before there is no individual bigger than the team and I always like to make sure, when I can, to think about the team. He was outstanding today. He maybe could have got another hat-trick but it doesn’t matter. The first goal, great, the second one great composure to finish.”
The not-so-great finish of the afternoon was provided by Stuart Armstrong in his first start for a month. Just after the half hour he contrived to rattle the bar from four yards out with the goal unguarded after Tierney had swept over a cross to tee him up for what seemed a certain goal.
Meanwhile, the not-so-great prospects are those of yesterday’s visitors. Hamilton manager Martin Canning might have believed he could “take a lot” from his team “competing with the best team in the country” but the bottom line is that competing with any team in the top league long-term looks problematic with his club now propping it up.
Hamilton’s next run of games sees them face Aberdeen, Hearts, Rangers and St Johnstone, while they are also at Ibrox in the Scottish Cup quarter-finals next Saturday. And just as it is difficult to see where Celtic’s next defeat is going to come from, the same might be said of a win for the Lanarkshire men.