A routine midweek victory over Hamilton may not have historically been much to get excited about for Celtic, but in a season that has been far from routine, it’ll do them for now.
The champions, as they remain for the timebeing at least, finally got back to winning ways as goals from Leigh Griffiths and Odsonne Edouard gave them their first victory of 2021 five games into the New Year.
It may not ultimately count for much in the grand scheme of things, but what else is there? All Neil Lennon and Celtic can do is try to steady the ship, navigate the rest of this wretched campaign, and hope that there’s a hulking great iceberg lurking somewhere out there undetected in the dark in front of Rangers.
There was indeed a much more familiar look about Celtic as they returned to full strength, with Edouard partnering Griffiths in attack and Kristoffer Ajer continuing at right-back in the absence of any alternative following Jeremie Frimpong’s departure. Everywhere that is, but between the sticks, where Scott Bain replaced Vasilis Barkas as the hokey-cokey of Celtic keepers continued.
The rumour that the Celtic half-time tombola is being put to use during the pandemic to select the goalie is apparently unfounded, with manager Lennon explaining prior to this game that Barkas’s performances to date don’t merit a regular starting place in his side. What now for the £5m man, brought in for his Champions League experience with AEK Athens, but not trusted to start a home match against the league’s bottom side?
In truth, they could have invited Packie Bonner down from the broadcast gantry here to throw on the gloves again and it wouldn’t have made too much of a difference to the outcome against a Hamilton side who offered very little in attack.
Celtic dominated from the off, patiently probing in the opening stages against the packed Accies defence, but Griffiths had soon had enough of that. Kris Ajer contested a ball out wide, Moi Elyounoussi poked it inside to Griffiths, and the forward lashed it into Ryan Fulton’s bottom left-hand corner.
It was a great strike from the frontman, and he looked sharper than he has of late throughout, except that is for when he should have bagged a second moments after his goal, having a fresh-air swipe after some good set-up play by Callum McGregor. Greg Taylor was having some success down the left too, and he picked out McGregor for another golden opportunity, but the midfielder planted his effort from the penalty spot straight at Fulton.
Still, for all of Celtic’s dominance, there was still a vulnerability about them at the back, and David Moyo should have punished Shane Duffy’s missed header as he side-footed a Scott McMann cross wide of the target.
At the other end, a brilliant last-ditch block by Accies skipper Brian Easton denied David Turnbull what looked like a certain goal, before Turnbull turned provider for Edouard to toe-poke at goal, with Fulton equal to the effort.
The game was over as a contest though soon after the restart, and it was the forward combination for Celtic that cut through the visiting defence, Griffiths picking out a lovely pass to put Edouard in, and the Frenchman side-stepping Fulton before smashing home.
Lennon was able to give Turnbull, Griffiths and Edouard breathers after that, but there wasn’t really a great deal more to write home about, with Celtic content to take their three points and move on.
As for Accies, the more significant result of their evening perhaps took place earlier in Dingwall, with Lanarkshire rivals Motherwell picking up a crucial three points over Ross County in the basement battle. Their next match against County at home next Wednesday will have far more bearing on their fate, with the Staggies currently a point above them at the foot of the table having played two games more.
Celtic welcome St Mirren on Saturday, who may provide a sterner test than Hamilton after their emphatic win at Tannadice last night. All they can do, is try to win again and hope for the best.
Lennon’s men may be up beyond their ankles in water, but they aren’t sunk quite yet.