Hamilton 1 - 2 Celtic: Griffiths fires champions 13 points clear

Matchwinner Leigh Griffiths celebrates Celtic's victory over Hamilton at full-time. Picture: SNS.
Matchwinner Leigh Griffiths celebrates Celtic's victory over Hamilton at full-time. Picture: SNS.
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It is unlikely to take up much space on Celtic’s commemorative ‘Seven in a Row’ DVD at the end of the season but the Scottish champions did just what was needed and no more to leave themselves just one more victory away from retaining their Premiership crown.

Substitute Leigh Griffiths scored the goal which took Brendan Rodgers’ side 13 points clear at the top of the table with the five post-split fixtures remaining.

Hamilton Accies remain firmly embroiled in the relegation tussle, just four points ahead of the play-off spot, although with a game in hand on their rivals. Their hopes of enhancing their survival prospects with a surprise result here were undermined by Darren Lyon’s dismissal for two rapid-fire bookings just before half-time.

It came at a stage of the game when Hamilton were very much in contention for a precious point, Rakish Bingham having cancelled out Callum McGregor’s early opener for Celtic. Holding out with 10 men after the break proved beyond the hosts as Griffiths, with his first meaningful touch of the ball, grabbed the winner. Following last Wednesday’s goalless draw at home to Dundee, it was another largely underwhelming display from Celtic but they nonetheless fully merited the result which puts them within touching distance of their priority piece of silverware for the season.

Accies paid the price for a slumbering start to the match with the concession of McGregor’s opener in the third minute but they should have been behind even earlier.

There were just eight seconds on the clock when, after the home side had kicked off, a slack back pass from Shaun Want allowed Moussa Dembele to gather possession and stride into the penalty area.

It should have been a straightforward finish for the French striker but his shot lacked sufficient power or placement, leaving Accies ‘keeper Ryan Fulton able to make a comfortable save.

But Scotland under-21 international Fulton, deputising for the injured Gary Woods, was soon retrieving the ball from the back of his net. Patrick Roberts, preferred to James Forrest on the right of midfield for Celtic linked up cleverly with McGregor to create the opening amid some flat-footed defending by Accies.

McGregor’s low right foot shot from around 16 yards flew through a ruck of bodies, possibly blocking the view of Fulton who was beaten via the inside of his left hand post.

The early signs were ominous for Martin Canning’s side but they roused themselves sufficiently to ensure Celtic found themselves in a genuine contest. Bingham lead the line diligently for Accies, causing more than occasional discomfort for the Celtic central defenders.

The big striker created a decent opening for Danny Redmond but the midfielder’s first touch was poor and the chance slipped by. But there was no mistake from Bingham himself when he drew Accies level in the 18th minute.

Ali Crawford, making his first start since December following his return from injury, displayed the kind of craft and imagination his side have been missing with a lofted through pass which caught Kristoffer Ajer on his heels. Bingham muscled his way ahead of the young Norwegian and dispatched a cool finish beyond Scott Bain from around 14 yards.

Celtic, not looking particularly comfortable on the artificial playing surface, tried to step up the tempo in response and Scott Sinclair was denied by a good block from Xavier Tomas after he had collected a Kieran Tierney cutback.

The visitors continued to dominate possession but without finding any significant degree of penetration in the final third of the pitch. Dembele curled a couple of free-kicks well off target, either side of a McGregor shot from distance forcing a smart save from Fulton, but Accies were fairly comfortable with the pattern of play until Lyon’s dismissal.

He was booked in the 40th minute for a foul on Tierney, a decision he could have little complaint with, to make his involvement with the same player just a minute later all the more inexplicable.

Responding to what appeared a retaliatory challenge from Tierney, Lyon threw the Celtic man to the ground. It was enough for Dallas to produce a second yellow for Lyon, albeit Tierney was perhaps fortunate to escape any punishment for his part in the incident.

Both teams made a change at the start of the second half, Celtic replacing defender Jack Hendry with Griffiths, while Accies sacrificed Crawford for the introduction of Georgios Sarris in a bid to shore up their now short-handed side.

There was no time for the hosts to settle into their new formation, however, as Griffiths made his telling impact less than 60 seconds after the restart. Sinclair did well to create time and space for himself on the left to whip over a perfect cross to the near post where Griffiths gave Fulton no chance with a firm header.

Much of the rest of the second half resembled an attack versus defence training session but with Celtic lacking the impetus required to add to their lead. They almost paid the price when, in a rare counter, Accies forced a corner which saw Redmond’s delivery pick out Sarris who scorned a simple opportunity from close range as he headed wide.

Substitute Charly Musonda missed a good chance to add some late gloss to the scoreline for Celtic but the three points were all that mattered as they close in on the finishing line.