Celtic v Hamilton Academical
Saturday, 25th January, 15.00
Celtic Park, Glasgow
They say time, and a couple of easy victories, heals all wounds.
Celtic have had a pretty solid start to 2019, not needing to go beyond second gear to defeat Airdrie and St Mirren by a cumulative 7-0, with contributions from new loan bhoys Oliver Burke and Timothy Weah, who have four goals between them already. Hamilton will be the next challenger, and while they offer a bit more than Airdrie or the Buddies, it looks like a torrid time may be in store for them as well.
Aside from the open question of “where’s ma right back?” the hue and cry around Parkhead in the wake of a dispiriting end of December has largely dissipated. An easy beginning to January is exactly what the squad needed to gain some momentum and even open up a bit of space at the top of the table with a game in hand. There is even a week left of the transfer window left…
Hamilton Accies are in the middle of a very typical Hamilton Accies season. Their record is not good (W4 D2 L16) and they have scored the fewest goals in the Premiership, yet they are still above the relegation places. They have one win and a draw since the December 1st and are coming off a 0-3 stomping courtesy of Aberdeen. Gaffer Martin Canning’s peg is the shoogliest in the league, and he shouldn’t expect much relief at the weekend.
Stats & Facts:
- Hamilton have been held to a goal or fewer in 12 of 13 matches this season, and have lost 4 of their last 6, being outscored 17-1 in those 4 games.
- Celtic have scored 18 goals in their last 5 home matches and have yet to drop a point at home this season against domestic opposition.
- Hamilton have lost their last eight against the Hoops, going back to a 1-1 draw in February 2016.
Last Five Matches:
- Hamilton Accies – Celtic 0-3, Nov’18 (Premiership)
- Celtic – Hamilton Accies 1-0, Aug’17 (Premiership)
- Hamilton Accies – Celtic 1-2, Apr’18 (Premiership)
- Celtic – Hamilton Accies 3-1, Dec’17 (Premiership)
- Hamilton Accies – Celtic 1-4, Sep’17 (Premiership)
Tony Andreu, a leader and mainstay in the Accies squad for a few seasons, is back with the club, having signed on loan from Coventry City. Striker and League One washout Steve Davies also signed after leaving Rochdale, and both should be expected in the lineup Saturday after playing 90 minutes against Aberdeen.
Other names you’ll recognize at Accies are Tom Taiwo and Ziggy Gordon, late of Hibs and Partick Thistle respectively, that have maybe a little something about them that typically disappears in an insipid Hamilton side. Striker Mickel Miller, who had showed a flash or two in his last match against Celtic, picked up an injury of unknown magnitude (because who reports on Hamilton injuries?) against Aberdeen, so assuming he isn’t fit to start James Keatings might be deputised to take his place.
Brendan Rodgers obviously disagreed with my passionate argument for a 3-5-2 formation, and is sticking with the 4-2-3-1. The only argument against that is Celtic’s weakness at the fullback position, particularly with Anthony Ralston picking up a knock against Airdrie. Mikael Lustig and Emilio Izaguirre (and perhaps Calvin Miller?) are good enough against the bottom six, but are liabilities against better teams. Rodgers mentioned in the Friday press conference that Kieran Tierney might be fit to return around the time of the Valencia tie in early February, but that has to be taken with a giant grain of salt as a lot can happen between now and then.
That all being said, the real mystery (to paraphrase a certain commentator) is “whit’s daein’ wae the goalie?” Scott Bain has started two in a row – a Cup match where you might expect him, but also against St Mirren. In both matches he was more than equal to the task, keeping two clean sheets and pulling off an insane series of saves against Airdrie. It’s hard to truly assess his distribution, as Gordon’s is so poor anyone would look better in comparison. Let’s assume there is keeper intrigue at Parkhead and it’s now Bain’s spot to lose.
At the end of the day I would expect a very similar lineup to the one that featured against St Mirren. Oliver Burke has been a solid contributor but Timothy Weah (I refuse to call him “Timo” and so should you) has set the heather alight coming on as a sub, and so why not give him his first start here and see what he can do over an extended appearance?
The forward combination of Sinclair-Christie-Forrest has worked well of late and it’s hard to see Rodgers dropping any of them, certainly Sinclair who has looked better in the last two matches than he has all season. Tom Rogic, still away who-the-fuck-knows-where on duty for Australia, is going to have some difficulty getting back into this first eleven, you would imagine.
In the midfield, with a continuing injury to Olivier Ntcham, it’ll likely be the Scott and Callum Show; eagle-eyed watchers of the match against St Mirren noted that Brown was being played 10 yards further up the pitch, which quickens the pace of the play in general and is also a good tactic to foil a high press. Young Euan Henderson impressed in a short substitute appearance on Wednesday evening, and Brendan has given him surprisingly positive reviews given that we haven’t seen much of the lad. He should make the bench Saturday; and hopefully we’ll see more of him going forward – perhaps he is next in line after KT and Callum McGregor.
Key points to watch:
- Betwixt the sticks: has Scott Bain truly supplanted Craig Gordon? With all the transfer window goings-on, for some reason this palace intrigue is at the top of my list. It would be a real gutsy call for Rodgers to bench his longtime #1, which might signal the beginning of the end for Gordon at Celtic. It’s all speculation for now, though, but that’s what we do in the absence of facts!
- Say Aye to Ajer: With Dedryck Boyata off in the summer, it makes little sense to play him and leave Kristoffer Ajer on the bench or relegated to sub appearances. The Norwegian with a face of granite is more than capable of the position but now needs a run of games and the confidence from his manager to run him out next to Filip Benkovic as much as possible before a tougher fixture list in February.
- Referee watch: A new-ish man in black for this one; Greg Aitken has refereed in the Premiership in the past but I don’t believe we’ve seen him for a wee while.
- Hello Bayo? Vakoun Issouf Bayo, whom I am very excited to see in green and white, has finally officially signed with Celtic following the work permit getting sorted out. Rodgers has mentioned the Ivorian is a couple weeks away from match fitness (although the kid is 21 and his former club are also in mid-season…) so it may be another match or two before Bayo can start and play the full 90, but he might be an intriguing substitute on Saturday.
Celtic 2, St. Mirren 0
(The original match poster is by Frankie Mitchell. You can buy a print of it and all of Frankie’s other fabulous Celtic artwork at her online shop)