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.
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.
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.
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”