Hamilton 1-1 Celtic: Celtic aggravated by organised Accies and awful officiating

In a match that will be remembered mainly for yet more crucial decisions going against Celtic, Hamilton’s efforts should not be underestimated. Neil Lennon’s injury ravaged side were quite easily stifled by Hamilton, who led right up until the 90th minute.

Celtic’s lineup


Celtic 4-4-1-1

With only one recognised striker available for selection, Lennon was forced into playing Anthony Stokes as the lone frontman. This isn’t the ideal role for a player of Stokes’ style and build – Stokes prefers starting from deeper and supplementing, rather than being the focal point of an attack. Therefore Lennon would ask his midfield and in particular Patrick McCourt to get forward and support at every available opportunity. Unerringly, the options on the bench were limited – 4 central midfielders and 2 wingers – getting the most from Stokes would be crucial.

Charlie Mulgrew continued on the left of midfield – a choice that points towards a more defensive slant on that side, and Emilio Izaguirre over-lapped at every opportunity. Mulgrew’s inclusion may have been influenced by his height, with only Rogne and Majstorovic being tall and strong in the air – the rest of the outfield players are very short by SPL standards, and a potential weakness.

Hamilton Academical



Hamilton 5-4-1


Having not won a single game at home all season, Hamilton setup against the league leaders by trying to pack the backline, and play a narrow 4 in midfield to stifle Celtic. Reid highlighted McCourt as the key player to stop and Gavin Skelton came into the side specifically to man-mark the Northern Irishman. Skelton ghosted McCourt doggedly, and managed to get a number of tough tackles in while avoiding the wrath of the referee.

When Hamilton got a chance to slowly press forward as a unit, the aim was to get the ball to targetman Hasselbainks feet and to muster support from either Imrie, Gillespie or Paixao although chances were limited. An interesting tactical gambit in open play was the sudden and unpredictable appearance of Simon Mensing in and around the Celtic box: most likely an attempt to ruffle the feathers of a fragile away defence. With the other 2 centre-backs back at all times, this was a low risk gamble.

McCourt Vs Skelton

And so with the majority of possession and a lack of target up front, Celtic’s most obvious outlet was through the sublime dribbling of Paddy McCourt. Unfortunately Skelton stuck to his task diligently, having a free defensive role to track McCourt absolutely anywhere. Although this could arguably disrupt the semantics of Hamilton’s 5-4-1 (could it be described 5-1-3-1?) in practice Skelton and McCourt duelled in the expected area of the park. McCourt threatened once or twice, but having a targetman to act as dummy makes a huge difference to his penetrative runs and can help open up holes in the defence to exploit. Neither Forrest, Stokes or Kayal could provide anywhere near the same thrust in attack – Reid’s plan was working.

Spotlight on Referee

Mensing’s aforementioned cavalier runs were however unrelated to his goal which came after the worst decision of the night from referee Willie Collum – not the first time he’s been at the centre of contentious decisions against Celtic. Martin Canning’s interference with the goalkeeper’s line of sight during a corner went unnoticed by Collum and his linesman, which was the root cause of the goal.

The majority of fans and red-tops alike will focus on these game-breaking decisions – the other being Jamie Forrest’s dismissal for a late, lunging challenge that made only minimal contact with Buchanan. The decisions seemingly enraged Celtic into a spell of urgency, with Emilio Izaguirre becoming more and more influential with surging runs both to the by-line and into the Accies box.

Celtic’s Reshuffling



Celtic Reshuffled


Accies too went down to 10 men, as McAlister came on for the injured McLaughlin, the substitute scythed down Wilson in farcical style. Their shape changed little, though were slightly unsettled defensively as now the formation was 4-4-1. Casalinuovo swapped with Hasselbaink as the game progressed.

Lennon reshuffled firstly with McGinn (for Wilson) who was tasked with patrolling the entire right-flank, with Rogne just behind to cover. With Hamilton seeping deeper and deeper, McGinn had reasonable freedom and enough energy to keep pushing beyond the opposition full-back, although the final quality was severely lacking.

At 10 vs 10 with the increased space, Celtic were enjoying more possession than ever before but still lacked the cutting edge up front, and Stokes was particularly poor. But the pressure increased, and Scott Brown was introduced (straight swap with Kayal) and Ljungberg (for Ledley) in an attempt to bring life and a fresh spark of creativity, which neither substitute could provide.

In the dying minutes a fantastic surge from Izaguirre won a penalty – Mensing was correctly dismissed and Stokes put away the penalty. Not such a contentious decision but an unwelcome talking point for the referee nonetheless. The final sting in the tail came from an Izaguirre corner – Stokes nodded home but the villanous linesman from the first half judged the ball to have gone out of play mid-flight. Lennon incensed yet again – but to blame the referee would be papering over the cracks.

The fallout will no doubt involve outraged staff, fans, former professionals etc. But that would be unfair on Billy Reid who tactically set out his team superbly. Possibly playing for a draw and fortunate to go ahead, but it was part of the plan. A mindless red-card severely undermined his plan. We should also not forget that despite Celtic’s injury problems up front, the performance was not good enough and the tactics one-dimensional. It would have been interesting to reshape to a 4-3-3 style in an effort to derail the 5 man defence in text-book manner. (With 11 men) Brown on for Mulgrew, McCourt, Stokes and Forrest making a front 3; Brown, Kayal and Ledley to fulfil the midfield. This would also draw Skelton into awkward positions.

As a mere blogger it would again be unfair and overly speculative to “correct” Lennon, but he needs to at the very least sort out his own deeply flawed ship before picking fights with officials: as Jock Stein says “If you’re good enough, the referee doesn’t matter”


About tictacticuk

Football fan and commentator of all things Celtic FC.
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5 Responses to Hamilton 1-1 Celtic: Celtic aggravated by organised Accies and awful officiating

  1. NickMcD says:

    I too thought a different strategy was called for today but in fairness to Lennon, there aren’t many managers who have to get it right whilst dealing with the slings and arrows he does. I struggle to think of any manager, let alone one learning his trade, who has to take account of so many ‘acts of God.’ Doesn’t mean he hasn’t made mistakes, sometimes fairly obvious ones, but he’s working under extraordinary circumstances.

    I’m afraid I have to disagree on the philosophy of ‘sorting your own ship out before you criticise others.’ As Mowbray found, that’s how your ship gets sunk. Whilst that sentiment is perpetuated, some very real problems in the game will never be dealt with. Lennon is perfectly entitled to call things as he sees them. He should be dealing with internal and external issues at the same time.

    I don’t think it’s sacrilegious to suggest the Jock Stein quote is one of his more contentious. I’ve always understood it as a rhetorical device to make a point (a non-controversial statement to subtly raise a controversial issue.) Taking it at face value is outdated in a modern, less open game. Games hinge on and are decided by incidents. You influence these (creating or influencing set pieces), you change the game.

    • tictacticuk says:

      Thanks for the reply.

      Generally I’ve been desperate to reject the whole “It can’t be paranoia” and “fuck the sfa” whirlwind that’s gripped the club. Perhaps in a slightly misguided attempt to come across as less biased and trying to stick to the principles of the blog which is more tactics/team selections orientated. Also there is a decent sized problem within our support to jump on *every* contentious decision that goes against us and class it as part of the gigantic conspiracy. There just has to be plain old honest mistakes.

      But I also appreciate that some refs/SFA staff in some instances hide behind the “honest mistake” banner and depend on that too heavily. And in fact I am more and more being drawn towards the “conspiracy” idea, as much as I hate the idea. It’s a sorry state of affairs.

      Most importantly conspiracy or not, there have been a huge amount of tremendously awful decisions going against us – and it’s simply not good enough. Lennon is under tremendous pressure as a novice as it is, so I do feel for him. But we’ll have to agree to disagree here – Celtic by far didn’t do enough to win last night, including the 2(or 3) main terrible calls. I don’t want this to be obscured by the refereeing debate, and while I was extremely frustrated writing that article, there is a lot of truth in what you’re saying that maybe *so many* bad calls make it impossible to win a finely balanced game. I just hate to see it as a generic excuse.

      On the topic of Mowbray, I would argue he never managed to sort out that ship in the slightest, though the refs never helped. Would’ve loved to be blogging on his formations, that would often end up with 4+ strikers and not much else.

      Your final point is very interesting – very Mourinho in fact, and I guess I do agree here. There is a lot to be said about the Machiavellian approach, good and bad – but I’d like to think if Lennon could’ve been a bit more pro-active and creative (not for the first time this season) then we’d be looking at 3 points here.

      Cheers for the comment

      • NickMcD says:

        Thanks for replying.

        We probably agree on Mowbray. I don’t think he had a clear strategy – it was all vision. I also don’t think he appreciated quite what he’d have to deal with. My point was that he gave every outward impression of accepting the line that “we have to deal with our own affairs before we challenge others'” which played into the media’s hands and was the first defence against any queries we might raise against ‘honest mistakes.’ It just increased pressure on him and the team, excused 3rd party interference and damaged the (seemingly remote!) possibility that we might gain tactical coherence. Back to tactics…

        I agree with a lot of what you say. I guess I’m saying that sometimes we all need to remind ourselves that tactics don’t exist in a vacuum. For example, tactics can go out the window when outrageous offside goals are allowed early in a game against a high defensive line. Or say, when your favoured playing strategies are interrupted by players being unavailable due to unjustified suspensions.

        I agree with you that I can’t understand Lennon’s selections or tactics sometimes. I don’t think he or the team were very good last night. But I also think there is a high chance that last night’s result wouldn’t have happened if Hamilton hadn’t inexplicably been allowed a relatively early goal from one of their few threatening chances.

        I just think we sometimes need to take a step back and consider how other managers or other teams would cope under what by any definition are extraordinary circumstances: bullets in the post, negative briefing in the media, a President unable to contain his hatred and repeated inexplicable decisions on the pitch. Whether we may believe they are due to bias, incompetence or whatever, is a secondary issue. The primary issue is that they are wrong and game-changing.

        I might not always agree with Lennon but I think it’s reasonable to extend a measure of sympathy when attempts at development and gaining momentum, especially tactically, are repeatedly interrupted by such unpredictable phenomena.

        Keep up the good work. Hail hail.

  2. dominic says:

    I take it you never watched the Berwick game ? Mulgrew played in that game.

    • tictacticuk says:

      Ah…. great point! I did indeed watch the Berwick game, report below but clearly the frustration got to me last night. Have edited in light of this spurious mistake.

      Guess I was influenced by the fact I don’t think he should be starting given our strength in wide areas, but ho hum…

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