Celtic 3 - 1 Hamilton: Two goals in a minute the difference for Celtic

It wasn't a performance to set pulses racing but Celtic continue to tap out a steady beat in their pursuit of a seventh consecutive league title.

James Forrest celebrates after he makes it 2-1 to Celtic. Picture: SNS
James Forrest celebrates after he makes it 2-1 to Celtic. Picture: SNS
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First half goals from Olivier Ntcham, James Forrest and Scott Sinclair saw Brendan Rodgers’ men maintain their comfortable five-point lead at the top of the Premiership with victory over a Hamilton Accies side who caused them sporadic problems without ever seriously threatening an upset.

Danny Redmond provided the champions with a briefly unsettling period when he cancelled out Ntcham’s opener, while the visitors also scorned a couple of decent opportunities to make it awkward for Celtic after the break.

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But after Sunday’s late wobble against Hibs at Easter Road, this was a routine and certainly deserved win for Celtic over the piece as they extended their record unbeaten domestic run to 69 matches.

Perhaps as much through necessity as design in the midst of a schedule which sees Celtic play nine games in December, Rodgers opted for some squad rotation. Kristoffer Ajer and Nir Bitton came into defence, joining Dedryck Boyata in a back three.

The reshaped formation, which saw Callum McGregor able to drop in from a fluid midfield to operate at left-back when required, also saw Stuart Armstrong back in the starting line-up.

There was still no place in attack for Leigh Griffiths, however, as the Scotland striker’s current absence from the starting line-up extended to a fourth consecutive game with Odsonne Edouard again preferred up front.

Celtic hit their stride quickly with Bitton and Ntcham both coming close from distance in the early exchanges, the former’s effort forcing a fine save from Gary Woods before the latter fizzed a shot narrowly wide.

It only took until the 12th minute for Celtic’s early dominance to earn a tangible reward. Sinclair sprinted onto a cute pass from McGregor down the left and the winger’s cross found Ntcham who thumped a right foot shot beyond the helpless Woods from around eight yards.

The early setback forced Hamilton to adopt a slightly more adventurous approach and Bitton had to make a tremendously timed interception to deny Redmond a shooting chance on the edge of the box.

Celtic continued to control proceedings, however, and Woods made another smart save when he threw himself to his left to keep out a stinging long range effort from the eager Ntcham.

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But Accies suddenly threw a spanner in the works for Rodgers and his players when they grabbed a 29th minute equaliser. The Celtic defence were caught flat-footed as Darian MacKinnon found Redmond on the edge of the penalty area and his left foot shot soared beyond the grasping left hand of Craig Gordon into the roof of the net.

Celtic’s sense of purpose and assurance was momentarily disturbed but they forced themselves back into the ascendancy in emphatic fashion to exert a firm grip on the contest with two rapid-fire goals just before half-time.

Accies were cut open all too easily from their perspective on both occasions. The goal which regained the lead for Celtic saw Armstrong’s through pass find Forrest’s untracked run, allowing him to take the ball around Woods and slide home his 11th goal of the season.

Barely 60 seconds later, it was 3-1 as Forrest cut in from the right and squared the ball for Sinclair who had all the time he wanted to steady himself and curl home a right foot shot.

Edouard’s efforts to make an impact in the first 45 minutes were restricted to a late barge on Woods which earned him a booking just before the interval. The French teenager made a more positive start to the second half, twice being denied at close range by Woods as he showed good pace and movement to get on the end of a couple of fine passes by Ntcham and Scott Brown.

But it was generally a frustrating night for Edouard who was substituted with just over 20 minutes remaining, the arrival of his replacement Griffiths prompting one of the loudest cheers of the night from the home support.

Hamilton had not yet given up on salvaging something from the match and Rakish Bingham should have reduced the deficit when he shot wide from close range after fine set-up play from Greg Docherty. Slackness at the back from Celtic presented Bingham with another chance but this time his shot struck a post after beating Gordon.