After a successful international break for half the Celtic team with Scotland as they played no fewer than six of our players in both games – two of them getting on the scoresheet in Stuart Armstrong and Leigh Griffiths – hopefully they’re coming back in buoyant mood with a chance of World Cup qualifying still alive for the time being.
Of course, there are others in the squad who didn’t have quite the same joy. Jonny Hayes, for instance, was an unused part of the Ireland squad that picked up just one point from six. They still have a chance though, and possible a better chance than Scotland realistically.
Then there was Mikael Lustig who was on the scoresheet against Bulgaria but they still lost 3-2. That’s looking like it will come down to the visit to the Netherlands, although in that case Sweden are already in second spot and a draw would probably be enough to go to the playoffs, whereas both Scotland and Ireland need to try and take that position with wins.
Okay, enough of the international chat.
It’s back to Celtic duty for now, and first up is a tricky league match on the plastic surface in Hamilton, just a few days after those double headers, and ahead of a massive Champions League group stage opener. We’ll come to that next week, because after dropping points at home to St Johnstone I’m sure everyone is keen to get the next winning run underway.
Don’t want 100% Aberdeen opening up a gap at the top after all!
Our last visit to New Douglas Park came back in December last year. A tricky first half ended with Griffiths scoring just before half time before going off with a calf injury, very similar to what saw him go off at Hampden Park in midweek! Although he earlier declared himself fit, Rodgers has ruled him out and so there’s a fair chance we’ll see a debut for PSG-loanee Odsonne Edouard. Whether that’s from the start or from the bench remains to be seen.
It got even trickier in the second half back in December when Callum McGregor was debatably sent off for a second yellow which never really looked like a challenge to anyone other than referee Willie Collum, but Armstrong made it 2-0 just a few minutes later with a peach of a strike to settle things down again. Moussa Dembele rounded off the 3-0 win with a few minutes to go in what only further demonstrated the strong character of Brendan Rodgers’ squad.
But that was a Hamilton Accies side on a run of nine games without a win after that defeat, and sitting joint bottom of the league. They eventually escaped relegation from the top flight by winning the playoff against Dundee United while Inverness – the team they were joint bottom with at the time – went straight down to the Championship.
It’s not so bad for Hamilton these days though, as they sit fourth in the table thanks to seven points from four games. Their only blot was the double header against Aberdeen, which saw them lose 2-0 at Pittodrie on the opening day in the league and then 1-0 at New Douglas Park in the League Cup. Since then they’ve beaten Dundee 3-0 at home, Hibernian 3-1 at Easter Road, and came from 2-0 down to draw 2-2 against Kilmarnock at Rugby Park.
Just for completeness, earlier in the League Cup they beat East Kilbride 3-1 and Stenhousemuir 3-0, while they had draws against Queen of the South and Albion Rovers – winning the penalty shootout for the bonus point in the first but losing it in the second.
But perhaps most noteworthy is the style in which Hamilton have been playing. If we had scored the third goal against Hibernian we’d have been banging on about it for weeks! It was a lovely move which got the finish it deserved. On top of that, Giannis Skondras hit a sweet half volley at Rugby Park to drag Hamilton back into the game, while Steven Boyd scored a wonderful chip over Scott Bain in the win against Dundee.
Okay, so they’ve had a bit of luck along the way as well. The Hibernian defending was shocking for most of that game, the equaliser against Kilmarnock came from a needless late penalty, and the game against Dundee was a fine example of how not to take your chances from the visitors. Scott Allan, on loan from Celtic, missing a penalty was just one of many blown chances by the visitors that day.
But sometimes you need a bit of luck along the way. Certainly Hamilton have taken the chances that have come their way, and that is where Celtic need to be wary.
It gets mentioned pretty much every time we go to New Douglas Park, but Hamilton have never actually beaten us there. Although Ali Crawford got the only goal of the 1-0 win at Celtic Park three years ago, their first win there since 1938, they haven’t beaten Celtic at home since the left the old Douglas Park. You have to go back to 1989 and a 2-0 win for the already relegated Hamilton to find it. We only played there once after that game, a 1-0 win in 1990 in the League Cup, as Accies spent the next twenty years outside of the top flight and sold the ground to Sainsbury’s in 1994.
You’ll know the Sainsbury’s you can see it behind the goal at New Douglas Park every game!
Hamilton’s best result since the move to the new stadium came in February last year when Eamonn Brophy equalised after Griffiths had given us the lead and Dedryck Boyata had been sent off for a last man challenge nowhere near the goal or even as last man! Ronny Deila bizarrely claimed it was correct, although we unsuccessfully appealed it soon thereafter, but controversial red cards for us seem to be a common theme at New Douglas Park.
The other odd aspect of that 1-1 draw was that it came just a few weeks after we’d beaten Hamilton 8-1 at Celtic Park, with Brophy also getting the goal that night. Fortunately, Brophy now plays for Kilmarnock so we don’t need to worry about him tonight!
With the plastic pitch, it seems unlikely that Jozo Simunovic will play in the game. With Boyata and Erik Sviatchenko both still out as well, and no central defenders having joined during the transfer window, you have to wonder what the back four will look like. Will Kristoffer Ajer and Nir Bitton link up there again as they did in Astana? Will Lustig or Kieran Tierney tuck in with Calvin Miller and Anthony Ralston once again being called upon to fill in?
I have a feeling that this won’t be the last time we’re wondering what the defence looks like this season. At least further up the park we’re looking strong with the likes of Armstrong no doubt looking to get is place back from Olivier Ntcham, while further forward we’re all delighted to see the option of Patrick Roberts back in there again. Maybe he’ll be the one to play in place of Griffiths, at least to begin with.
Three points and no injuries ahead of Tuesday’s match are the aims tonight, hopefully we get both.
Krys (Twitter @krys1888)