Celtic 4 Hamilton 0: Accy-bashing cannot help Celtic in Europe

Click to follow
The Independent Football

Shooting fish in a barrel is a perfectly satisfactory way to spend a Saturday afternoon, but the foremost thought on leaving Parkhead was that easy pickings such as this tell us nothing significant about Celtic's chances of winning anything.

Such thrashings might instead help to explain why Celtic are as far away as ever from making a truly significant breakthrough in the Champions League, like getting beyond the last 16. Not that even that stage is likely this season.

When your domestic opponents are, week in, week out, generally far inferior, how are you supposed to prepare your team for trips to the likes of Villarreal and Manchester United?

Then along comes a result like Rangers' 1-0 defeat to St Mirren yesterday as a reminder that although the Old Firm are expected to win almost every game – and should, given their resources – shocks happen. Ensuring they are as infrequent as possible requires professionalism.

It was in that context that Gordon Strachan praised his players' attitude, saying he was "more than satisfied" with overwhelming the Accies. "[This game] could have been a problem," he said. "It was windy, wet, we had just played a European tie [lost 1-0 at Villarreal] and had been on the plane for a long time."

You can quibble with that logic. Windy and wet is default weather in Glasgow. The 1-0 loss in Spain was on Tuesday, involving one short-haul private plane trip in each direction. But Strachan was rather more on the money when he said: "Unfortunately for [Hamilton], we have more ability than them." And his basic point, that his players needed to re-focus for an entirely different challenge, was sound.

St Mirren have highlighted that the small fry of the Scottish Premier League might not beat the big boys often, but they will try their utmost. Saints triumphed against the run of play yesterday thanks to Stephen McGinn's 77th-minute goal. This was the final time St Mirren will host Rangers at Love Street before their imminent move to a new stadium. And it was the first time they had won at home to Rangers for 22 years.

The points lift Gus MacPherson's side from the foot of the table and sent Aberdeen to rock bottom in the process. The Dons lost 2-1 at home on Saturday to Hibernian. Defeat for Rangers also means that Celtic keep the top spot on goal difference.

The most impressive display from a man in Hoops was by Georgios Samaras, even though the Greek was on the bench at the start. He got came on early anyway after a stomach muscle injury to Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink.

Samaras and Aiden McGeady set up Shunsuke Nakamura's opener. Nakamura set up Samaras for the second. McGeady helped Scott McDonald scramble the third and Shaun Maloney, a terrific runner with the ball at his feet, set up McGeady for the fourth.

Yet there could and should have been more, as Hamilton's manager, Billy Reid, readily acknowledged. His newly promoted side did not force one save in open play and missed an undeserved second-half penalty. "It could have been more than 4-0," Reid said. "It was a huge learning curve for us."

The Old Firm, too, are used to winning in the league, and that is perhaps why playing big sides in Europe is such a leap. Facing domestic cannon fodder in so many games brings its own challenges, like maintaining focus. Celtic were ponderous at times but came good anyway. Rangers had four late chances cleared from the line to prove nothing can be taken as given.

Goals: Nakamura (25) 1-0; Samaras (37) 2-0; McDonald (76) 3-0; McGeady (83) 4-0.

Celtic (4-4-2): Boruc; Wilson, Caldwell, McManus, Robson; McGeady, Crosas, S Brown (O'Dea, 82), Nakamura; McDonald, Vennegoor of Hesselink (Samaras, 3; Maloney, 77). Substitutes not used: M Brown (gk), M Donati, P Hartley, P Caddis.

Hamilton (4-1-4-1): Cerny; Elebert, Swailes (Corcoran, h-t), Canning, Easton; Neil; Mensing, McArthur, McCarthy, Graham (Thomas, 77); Lyle (Ettien, h-t). Substitutes not used: Murdoch (gk), Casement, McLenahan, Akins.

Referee: S Conroy (Scotland).

Booked: Celtic Caldwell; Hamilton Neil.

Man of the match: Samaras.

Attendance: 55,881.