CELTIC 2 HAMILTON ACCIES 0
MAGICAL Moussa Dembele fired in two more efforts to take his season’s haul to a marvellous 29 goals as Celtic overcame stubborn Accies at Parkhead this afternoon.
The French ace broke the barrier with a breathtaking strike just on the interval when the confrontation looked to be heading for a scoreless stalemate.
And the 20-year-old did the trick again just before the hour mark with a cheeky penalty-kick.
Dembele had another 31 minutes to collect his fourth hat-trick of the campaign after his trios against Sevco Rangers, St Johnstone and Inverness Caley Thistle.
But Brendan Rodgers decided he had done enough for the day and took him off in the 72nd minute with Leigh Griffiths making a welcome return.
Martin Canning’s side are now rock-bottom of the Premiership, but they made a decent fist of it against the champions before Dembele’s deadly opener bang on half-time.
The much sought-after frontman took a touch about 25 yards out before launching an unstoppable drive high past the helpless Garry Woods into the top corner of the net.
Earlier, the Hoops had been frustrated in their pursuit of the goal that would smoothe their way to a 21st successive win over Scottish opposition and help them to their 32nd unbeaten domestic outing of a sensational term.
During the week, Rodgers pleaded with Scottish referees to give a bit more protection to the nation’s ball-players.
He was speaking out not just for his own performers, but all the talented operators at other clubs.
Alas, his words fell on deaf ears as far as Crawford Allan was concerned in this encounter and it resulted in James Forrest hirpling out of the action in only the 10th minute.
Danny Redmond, who enjoys a tackle, put in a meaty challenge that took the ball, but his follow-through did the damage as the Hoops ace, bang in form in the recent wins over Caley Thistle and Motherwell, collapsed to the turf in obvious pain.
It was quickly evident the player would not be fit to resume and Rodgers sent on Gary Mackay-Steven in his place.
It took the hosts until the 22nd minute to carve out a genuine chance, but Scott Sinclair’s elevation was just out and his attempt flew narrowly over the crossbar.
Celtic got a scare shortly afterwards when Imrie broke clear, but sliced his shot wide of the upright from a good position.
In the 31st minute, Rodgers’ runaway leaders should have netted, but Stuart Armstrong squandered a fine opportunity.
The midfielder, making his first start after his recent injury, had the goal at his mercy after being set up by a superb run and cross from Kieran Tierney.
But he hurried his shot and the ball clattered off the face of the crossbar and rebounded to safety. It was the ideal chance for him to go into double figures this season.
There was a lot of huffing and puffing with Accies’ back five standing resolute and their midfield men always charging around, closing down space and getting in tackles.
However, one spark of genius by Dembele undid all their good endeavour smack on half-time.
He almost added to his tally shortly after the turnaround, too, when he got on the end of another inviting cross from Tierney. However, on this occasion, he was just off target.
But Dembele made amends in the 59th minute when the match official had no option but to award a penalty-kick when Tierney was brought down in the box by ex-Celtic favourite Massimo Donati.
The Italian was booked for his wayward challenge and worse was to follow when Dembele nonchalantly lobbed the ball down the middle of the goal as Woods took off for a corner.
Celtic had the ball in the net again when Dembele picked out Mackay-Steven who set up Sinclair, but the Englishman had strayed just offside and the ref rightly ruled it out.
Rodgers then made the decision to introduce Griffiths in the 72nd minute for only his second appearance of 2017 as he has struggled to overcome a calf injury.
The crowd willed him to score, but they had to be content with yet another win in the march towards the sixth successive crown.
The fact that Craig Gordon didn’t have a single save to make during the entire game will give an indication of how much the champions dominated this encounter.
TEAM: Gordon; Gamboa, Sviatchenko, Boyata, Tierney; Brown, Bitton; Forrest (sub: Mackay-Steven 10), Armstrong, Sinclair; Dembele (sub: Griffiths 72).