Brendan Rodgers’ success as Celtic manager will be judged over a longer period but his revitalising effect on the club saw him earn an early place in its record books with a victory which stretches his team’s lead at the top of the Premiership to 11 points.
Leigh Griffiths scored the only goal against an obdurate Hamilton outfit to extend Celtic’s unbeaten run in domestic competition this season to 19 matches. For Rodgers, that equates to the best-ever start by a Celtic manager, eclipsing the mark set by Martin O’Neill 16 years ago.
This was some distance short of the Scottish champions’ optimum performance level under Rodgers so far but they fully merited the three points earned by Griffiths’ 11th goal of the campaign.
Hamilton could take satisfaction from a display far more resilient than when they succumbed to a humiliating 8-1 defeat on their previous visit to Celtic Park but their run of five successive draws in the league came to a predictable end nonetheless.
Rodgers may have felt the need to pointedly remind everyone he is under no obligation to accommodate Griffiths in his starting line-up but he found a way to do so last night as he paired last season’s top scorer with the current campaign’s leading marksman Moussa Dembele in a flexible formation. It was only the sixth time the two have played alongside each other.
It effectively amounted to a 3-1-4-2, with captain Scott Brown operating almost as a defensive ‘libero’ in front of the back three of Mikael Lustig, Erik Sviatchenko and Jozo Simunovic.
While Celtic were predictably dominant in possession from the outset, they took some time to adapt to their new set-up which was countered effectively by a robust and tactically diligent Accies side.
Moments of genuine concern for the visiting defence, calmly marshalled by former Celtic man Massimo Donati, were fleeting in the opening half hour. Callum McGregor, deployed on the left of Celtic’s midfield, was the first to pose a real threat when he burst into the penalty area before being denied a shooting opportunity by Greg Docherty’s alertness.
Hamilton were largely content to play a containing game, but they occasionally switched into a more ambitious approach. It almost caught Celtic out in the 35th minute when Martin Canning’s men forced a couple of corners on the back of a rapid counter attack.
From the second of them, Ali Crawford’s delivery from the right found Donati unmarked but the Italian was unable to generate enough power with his header which was comfortably saved by Craig Gordon.
That seemed to inject greater tempo into Celtic’s play as they immediately responded by creating their clearest chance of the night yet. When Accies were unable to fully clear a corner, Patrick Roberts dinked over a cross which Simunovic wastefully headed over from around eight yards.
Celtic maintained that momentum, however, and made the breakthrough eight minutes before the interval. Tom Rogic’s speared pass split the Hamilton defence for the first time, finding Dembele on the edge of the penalty area. The Frenchman would have been within his rights to have an attempt at goal but instead unselfishly squared the ball to Griffiths.
After initially appearing in danger of failing to get it under control, Griffiths managed to spin away from Grant Gillespie and guide a left-foot shot beyond Garry Woods’ left hand from around 12 yards.
Having had to exercise so much patience before finding the opener, Griffiths should have doubled his tally and Celtic’s lead just two minutes later. A fine diagonal pass from Lustig found the Scotland striker in space on the left of the Hamilton penalty area but this time he dragged his shot wide of the target.
Celtic finally had the bit between their teeth and they came close again on the stroke of half-time when Dembele headed just over under pressure from Donati.
Hamilton would have been excused a sense of foreboding at this stage and they found themselves stretched again in the early stages of the second half.
Griffiths should have done better than stab a shot over the top after he was brilliantly set up by Roberts, then Stuart Armstrong clipped a shot wide with the outside of his right boot after being played in by Rogic.
The insurance of a second goal did not seem like a matter of urgency for Celtic, given the almost total lack of any response from Hamilton as an attacking force, but their pursuit of it continued at a steady rate. Substitute Gary Mackay-Steven came agonisingly close to connecting with a dangerous ball flashed across the six-yard box by Roberts, then Rogic sent a well struck 20-yard shot narrowly wide of Woods’ right-hand post.
The potential fragility of a 1-0 scoreline in any circumstances was then illustrated by a late rally from Accies which saw substitute Eamonn Brophy come close to snatching the unlikeliest of equalisers with three minutes remaining when he flashed a shot wide of Gordon’s left-hand post.