Scott Martin didn’t know whether to laugh or cry when the PA announcer declared him as man of the match a few minutes from the end of Hamilton’s 3-0 defeat by Celtic on Saturday.
The boyhood Celtic fan had probably always dreamed of scoring for the Scottish champions one day, just not in the manner he achieved it when he put the ball through his own net midway through the second half.
Martin’s aberration, as his attempt to block Scott Sinclair’s header left Hamilton goalkeeper Gary Woods helpless and put Celtic 2-0 up at a stage when the game remained in the balance, didn’t prevent his overall efforts being recognised by the sponsors of the home team’s top-man prize.
The 21-year-old midfielder, who joined Accies from Hibernian at the start of this season, was able to see the funny side afterwards. “It was a bit strange when that was announced,” admitted Martin. “The rest of the lads are asking me if it was my Dad who selected the man of the match!
“It’s a bittersweet moment, to be fair. I support Celtic, so to get the man of the match award against them, from whoever picked it, is a privilege. It was a real privilege to be on the same pitch as some of those Celtic players.
“But I’ve got to hold my hands up for the second goal. I’ve thrown up a bit of a lazy leg at the ball and that’s what has put Gary Woods off. I’ve told the boys that one is down to me.
“I don’t think it goes in if I don’t touch it. It was one of those situations where I felt if I got enough contact on the ball I could clear it. But it was just a lazy leg, so I have apologised for that.”
In-form Ryan Christie’s fourth goal in his last six outings for Celtic had given Brendan Rodgers’ side an early lead, the attacking midfielder finishing off a clever corner routine involving Callum McGregor and Odsonne Edouard.
Hamilton, while posing no attacking threat of their own, hung in grimly after that to retain hope of snatching something from the contest until Martin’s unfortunate intervention.
“Celtic upped the gears in the second half when we started to tire a bit,” added Martin. “I thought the boys gave a good account of themselves. We stuck in the game until the second goal went in.
“It was similar to the plan we had against Rangers at home a few weeks ago, to try and frustrate them, nick the ball as high as we can and then break. We stuck to the game plan really well but didn’t create as many chances as we would have liked. As much as the scoreline hurts in the end, these are the games you enjoy with a bigger crowd in the stadium. Some of our boys are playing against the team they support. It’s a great fixture to be involved in and that’s the first time I’ve played against Celtic. I really enjoyed it.”
Hamilton now face two crucial away fixtures against relegation rivals St Mirren and Dundee who both gained ground on them at the bottom of the table on Saturday.
“The next two games against them are the really important ones for us in terms of where we are in the league,” said Martin. “Hopefully we can put in the kind of performance which will get us the results we need. Those are the games we are really judged on.”
Celtic wrapped up their victory when substitute Leigh Griffiths, back in action after a seven-week absence, drilled home a late free-kick conceded by Martin. The striker’s return is another boost for the champions who have now kept six clean sheets in an unbeaten run of seven Premiership fixtures since losing at Kilmarnock in September.
“Leigh is all about scoring goals,” said Celtic defender Mikael Lustig. “He got one chance and he has a world-class left foot so I am happy for him. If we get a free-kick anywhere near goal, we know we have a good chance to score with him in the team.
“We have a good unit at the back now. We have a lot of clean sheets. That starts from the strikers, we are working really hard together now as a team. We know we need to do that if we want to have clean sheets.
“I don’t know what has changed, really. At the start of the season we actually defended quite well, but the opposition would have three or four chances and score two goals. It was a little bit unlucky.
“We’ve been working really hard to improve and the way we press the game now is a lot better than it was. Maybe it’s a little bit fitness-based and the confidence is getting better as well.”