It’s like he’s never been away.
On his second debut for Celtic, Patrick Roberts showed exactly why supporters have been pining for his return all summer long. He was heavily involved in the action and, if ever there were any doubt, demonstrated why Celtic are a stronger force with him in the line-up.
Unafraid to throw the player straight back into the starting XI, Brendan Rodgers had a different role for Roberts than what the attacker was used to in his previous 18-month spell.
Operating in a 3-4-3 system, Roberts was tasked with moving into the pockets of space between the defence and midfield on the right side of the front three. Scott Sinclair was operating on the opposite flank, but he was in more familiar territory: performing basically the same role he does in any Celtic formation, where he’s given licence to either attack the centre or stay wide - kind of like an old school inside forward.
For Roberts this was something new, but not that you’d have noticed. Twice in the first five minutes he got himself on the ball and delivered reverse passes through the centre, picking holes in the Accies back three. The first, for fellow debutant Odsonne Edouard, had a little too much zip on it. The second erroneously brought the linesman’s flag, as replays showed Roberts had timed and weighted his pass to perfection.
Most debutants might shirk responsibility in such circumstances. Roberts thrived on it. Aided by the familiarity with his players and surroundings, he linked up seamlessly and always seemed to find the right space in which to get involved.
His perfect reading of a through ball down the right put Celtic on their path to scoring the opening goal. The midfielder gambled on Hamilton defender Scott McMann failing to cut out the pass, giving him a free run down the wing when his gamble paid off. Though Hamilton were able to clear the immediate danger from their penalty area, they were unable to get out of their own half until Celtic finally made the pressure count with Stuart Armstrong finding the far corner.
Even as he shone bright, there were still little glimpses of rustiness which, in turn, promise more to come. After all, he’s not played a competitive game since the Scottish Cup final, and the lack of sharpness was evident on a couple of occasions, most notably the best chance he had to get himself on the scoresheet.
Receiving the ball in space inside the penalty area, Roberts decided against pushing the ball forward to the right, where he would still have had a sizeable view to aim his shot a yard inside both posts, choosing instead to cut back. You could see what he was trying to do in opening up the whole goal, but he misread McMann’s positioning and fired his effort straight at the Accies defender.
While he didn’t get a goal, he did chalk up what’s sure to be the first of many assists, calmly playing in Edouard to net Celtic’s fourth goal.
Withdrawn on 67 minutes, he left the field to rapturous applause with the Celtic fans singing his name. Their hero is back and they’re going to enjoy every minute of it.