Hamilton 0 - 3 Celtic: Celtic cruise despite balls like ‘balloons’

brendan Rodgers complained that "every ball seemed to be flat." Pic: SNS/Craig Williamson
brendan Rodgers complained that "every ball seemed to be flat." Pic: SNS/Craig Williamson
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At the start of a relentless schedule of 11 games in 35 days which will shape their season, Celtic cruised through as undemanding an assignment as they could have hoped for to retain top spot in the Scottish Premiership.

This was as routine as it gets for Brendan Rodgers’ side as strikes from Ryan Christie and the returning Leigh Griffiths, either side of a Scott Martin own goal, saw off a toothless Hamilton Accies outfit.

It was the perfect loosener for the Scottish champions ahead of a week which sees them face Rosenborg in a crucial Europa League fixture before the first leg of their ‘treble treble’ attempt against Aberdeen in the Betfred Cup Final at Hampden next Sunday.

The only difficulty encountered by Celtic in Lanarkshire as they imposed themselves on Accies immediately from kick-off was an issue with the condition of the match ball which had to be replaced several times in the opening minutes amid complaints it was under-inflated.

Rodgers made no attempt to hide his irritation as he remonstrated with the fourth official during an almost farcical stop-start first few minutes.

“Every ball seemed to be flat, all seven of them,” he said afterwards. “I’m not sure if that was a tactic or whatnot, but it was like passing a balloon.

“They’ve got all the tricks up here, haven’t they, to slow the game? Eventually we got our own kit-man to go and get the pump and pump them all up.”

The visitors were certainly fully pumped up to return to winning ways in the Premiership after dropping two points in their previous outing at Livingston before the international break.

They were unfortunate not to be awarded a penalty in the second minute when Accies defender Matt Kilgallon appeared to clearly block an Odsonne Edouard cross with a hand. Referee Don Robertson was well positioned but dismissed the appeal.

All of the momentum was with Celtic, not that they required their highest levels of intensity to dominate proceedings against a Hamilton side simply intent on a policy of containment.

Kieran Tierney, back in action after missing out on Scotland duty because of a hamstring strain, had little in the way of defensive duties to concern himself and the left-back created Celtic’s next opening with a cross for Edouard who saw his shot blocked by Martin.

All the signs pointed to an early breakthrough for the champions and it duly arrived with the brilliantly worked set piece which led to Christie’s 13th minute opener. Callum McGregor played a short corner from the left to Edouard who returned it to the midfielder with a delightful back-heel.

With the Hamilton defence wrong-footed, McGregor rolled a pass into the path of Christie who slammed a shot high beyond Gary Woods from around 10 yards.

During what at times resembled a glorified training session, the only criticism which could be levelled at Celtic was a lack of ruthlessness in and around the Accies penalty area in the remainder of the first half.

Scott Sinclair should have doubled their lead in the 28th minute when set free by Olivier Ntcham’s fine through ball but the winger’s shot was too close to Woods who was able to turn it behind.

Another perfectly weighted and cleverly picked pass from Ntcham then created another sight of goal for Edouard whose low effort was deflected narrowly wide of Woods’ left hand post. Such was the freedom allowed to Celtic, Mikael Lustig even popped up in the centre-forward position at one stage, the Swedish right-back’s shot blocked by Ziggy Gordon.

Rodgers’ men continued to control proceedings with ease after the break, albeit while remaining profligate. Ntcham was next to miss a more than presentable chance for Celtic, slicing a shot just wide after carving open the Accies defence with an exchange of passes with Edouard.

As the second half progressed, Celtic began to get bogged down in the overall mediocrity of the occasion. But any anxiety on the part of their supporters that the slender lead they enjoyed might be threatened was eased when it was finally doubled in the 68th minute.

It was an excruciating moment for Martin. In attempting to block a tame header from Scott Sinclair, who had got on the end of a Lustig cross, the young Accies midfielder merely succeeded in flicking the ball beyond his own goalkeeper from the edge of the six yard box.

The simplest of victories for Celtic was provided with a sprinkling of late glitter with the introduction of Griffiths. Just eight minutes after replacing Edouard, he marked his return in trademark fashion.

Martin conceded the free-kick on the edge of the penalty area with a foul on Sinclair and when the Hamilton defensive wall obligingly allowed Christie to peel off and create a space, Griffiths drilled his left footed effort low beyond the flat-footed Woods.