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HAMILTON 1 CELTIC 2

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THERE are occasions when you have to win ugly if you have aspirations of lifting the league title. For Celtic, this was one of those games.

This ninety minutes will not live long in the memory banks of those who witnessed it. There was little ingenuity or enterprise on display. Perspiration replaced inspiration.

At the end of an untidy encounter, the three points were heading back to Parkhead and that was the objective right from the start.

Once again, Ronny Deila’s men didn’t kill off the opposition during the spells they were on top.

The artificial surface didn’t help and Kris Commons spent as much time spinning around on his rear-end as he did on his feet.

That fact was highlighted when Nir Bitton was able to pick out the midfielder after a good break forward by the Hoops.

The Israeli’s ball looked to be arrowing in on its target until Commons, with no-one near him, took a tumble and another opportunity was missed.

Celtic had to overcome a fright, too, when the determined Accies took the lead in the fourth minute.

And, yet again, the Parkhead defence was unlocked far too easily. Right-back Ziggy Gordon threw a shy down the line in the direction of Gramaz Kurtaj.

Dedryck Boyata appeared to have the situation covered until he inexplicably lost his balance, hit the deck and the Accies striker took off at pace towards Craig Gordon.

Kurtaj, who battled and snarled his way through this confrontation, held his nerve as he raced into the box and left the keeper helpless with a well-driven effort into the far corner.

Celtic’s immediate response was to charge forward on the left and ex-Celt Michael McGovern made a competent save low to his left as Emilio Izaguirre tried his luck.

Scott Brown and Bitton looked ponderous and slow in the middle of the park as they brought the ball foward at a leisurely pace. Bitton has marvellous close control, but he does tend to overdo it and invite the tackle as he did several times this afternoon.

However, the champions got on level terms in the 26th minute with a simple, but effective, free-kick manoeuvre.

Griffiths hung a deadball effort up at the far post after an excellent delivery from the right.

McGovern elected to remain on his line, his defence dithered and Boyata came in on the blindside to sidefoot a volley into the roof of the net from two yards.

Six minutes later and Celtic were celebrating as they took the lead after a swift exchange of passes laid their opponents bare.

Bitton slipped a neat pass into the tracks of Saidy Janko who swept over an inviting cross into the packed penalty area.

Griffiths’ timing was absolutely impeccable as he rose, seemed to hover for a moment and then deftly head-flicked an unstoppable effort wide of McGovern’s clutching fingers.

There was a scare just before the interval when Izaguirre gave away a cheap free-kick in a dangerous area on the right.

Dougie Imrie drove the ball towards the far post and Gordon missed it completely as he flapped at in flight. Fortunately, it carried wide of the upright.

The second-half was much the same as the first with two sets of players piling into each other with verve and vigour.

There was another warning for Celtic, though, in the 64th minute when they came so close to conceding the equaliser.

Ali Crawford, who scored his side’s historic winner in the game at Parkhead last season, hit a curling shot from an angle about 25 yards out.

This time Gordon kept his eye on the ball and managed to push it away with his left hand. It dropped right at the feet of Carlton Morris, but, with Izaguirre out of position, he stabbed the ball past the post.

There was no surprise when Deila sent on Stuart Armstrong immediately for the ineffective James Forrest, who toiled to make any sport of impact on proceedings.

With 14 minutes to go, Gary Mackay-Steven and Mikael Lustig came on for Tom Rogic and Janko as the Parkhead side tried to freshen things up.

Ten minutes from time, Tyler Blackett, who again looked unconvincing, blundered to allow Accies sub Christian Nade to get away from him to head towards Gordon.

Thankfully, the heavyweight frontman is not blessed with pace and the on-loan Manchester United defender caught up with him to rectify his earlier mistake.

The game came to a conclusion in four minutes of added-on time with Mackay-Steven slashing a low shot just off target.

It might have put a better complexion on the scoreline, but today was all about winning and the Hoops are now a mere point adrift of stumbling Aberdeen.

TEAM: Gordon; Janko (sub: Lustig 76), Boyata, Blackett, Izaguirre; Brown, Bitton; Commons, Rogic (sub: Mackay-Steven 76), Forrest (sub: Armstrong 64).

 
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