CARELESS Celtic got caught up in a horror show at Hamilton tonight to throw away two crucial Premiership points.
It looked to be going according to plan for the Hoops when Leigh Griffiths slotted home a penalty-kick in the 34th minute to give his team the lead.
Scott Allan teed it up with a cute pass to the prolific frontman from the bye-line. Dougie Imrie charged in, clipped Griffiths and it was an easy decision for referee Craig Thomson to point to the spot. Celtic’s leading marksman belted the ball down the middle of the goal as Michael McGovern took off for a corner.
The striker celebrated his 33rd goal of the season and the Hoops fans settled back in the hopes of watching another goal deluge after witnessing eight the last times the teams met.
However, a bewildering decision by the match official near the interval changed the complete pattern of the game when he harshly sent off Dedryck Boyata.
The Belgian was forced to race across to put in a last-ditch challenge on Carlton Morris four yards outside the box.
The Accies attacker went down and the worst Boyata, who got a touch on the ball, might have expected was a booking. But the controversial referee stunned everyone by immediately brandishing a red card.
It was hardly a goalscoring opportunity, it wasn’t dangerous play and the defender did get a touch to divert the pass. Yet Thomson made his mind up in an instant and Ronny Deila was forced to restructure his side.
Off came Kris Commons and on came Charlie Mulgrew to line up against Erik Sviatchenko in the middle of the defence.
Suddenly Celtic’s game plan was thrown into chaos and Hamilton, hungry for revenge after their embarrassment at Parkhead, saw their chance to capitalise.
Even at the start, there was a surprise when Belgian keeper Logan Bailly was named ahead of Craig Gordon, who could only get a place on the bench.
Nir Bitton wasn’t risked on the artificial surface, Stuart Armstrong made way and Commons and Scott Allan came in from the start.
The Hoops had the percentage of possession in the opening half, but had insufficient expertise to unlock a stuffy, hard-working rearguard.
It was 34 minutes before they had a shot on target – and that was when Griffiths fired home his penalty-kick.
Despite the champions’ domination, Accies had their opportunities to spring a surprise against the run of play.
That was highlighted in the 37th minute when the unfortunate Boyata made a mess of an interception and the ball ran to Morris. Bailly, however, kept a cool head, remained tall and was able to beat away the Accies player’s shot.
In fact, Celtic had a let-off in the 17th minute when out-of-sorts skipper Scott Brown was robbed of possession and Morris slipped a nice pass into the tracks of Ali Crawford.
The player who scored Accies’ winner at Parkhead in October 2014 was out of luck on this occasion. Bailly was brave as he threw himself at the striker’s feet and he hurried his shot which carried over the bar.
And Crawford also tested Bailly just before half-time with a left-foot drive from the edge of the box, but the shotstopper got down well to his right to push the ball away.
Five minutes into the second-half, Gary Mackay-Steven had a miss that you just knew would come back and bite Celtic on a night like this.
Kieran Tierney picked him up with a sweeping long pass and the midfielder got in between the defenders. He was left with a one-on-one situation with the keeper, but completely fluffed the opportunity and hit a woeful effort against McGovern and it was cleared to safety.
Griffiths had an even worse attempt in the in the 65th minute when he passed up the opportunity of doubling the advantage when he blundered at a spot-kick – as he did against Ross County in the League Cup semi-final defeat.
Ziggy Gordon wrestled Mikael Lustig to the ground at a corner-kick and Thomson had no alternative but to point to the spot. Yet again, it was a stonewaller.
McGovern went early to his left, but, amazingly, Griffiths didn’t take advantage and struck his shot towards the same corner. The keeper could hardly believe his luck as he pushed the attempt to safety.
It was another chance squandered and Accies took full advantage when they equalised in the 73rd minute. The defence couldn’t clear an Imrie right wing corner-kick and the ball fell to Eamonn Brophy.
The substitute didn’t hesitate as he hit the ball first-time with his right foot and Bailly had no chance as his effort rocketed into the roof of the net.
Celtic completed the game with 10 men, but the home side must be thanking their lucky stars they finished with a full complement.
Darian MacKinnon should have seen a red after a high, dangerous challenge on Tierney in the 80th minute. Thomson settled for a yellow and, only a few moments later, the same player was penalised again for another dangerous tackle on Stefan Johansen. The Hoops were awarded a foul, but MacKinnon escaped any further punishment.
In desperation, Deila sent on Colin Kazim-Richards for Allan in the 86th minute, but it’s doubtful if the substitute even got a kick of the ball on a night to forget for Celtic.
So, the champions blew the chance of going nine clear of nearest challengers Aberdeen who face St Johnstone tomorrow at Pittodrie.
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