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Hamilton 1 – 1 Celtic: Bottom side hold firm in game fraught with controversy

January 14, 2011

An injury ravaged Celtic dropped two points after an extraordinary meeting  with Hamilton at New Douglas Park where, yet again, the officials were the biggest talking point of an SPL game.

Celtic started with a similar lineup to that which won at Ibrox, the one difference being the inclusion of Anthony Stokes in place the injured Giorgios Samaras. This was an injury forced change, with Stokes the only available first team forward and it was to have a big impact on the potency of Celtic’s attack. After a stint at left-back in the Scottish Cup, Charlie Mugrew was moved back to the left side of midfield – where he performed so admirably against Rangers – where he can provide a bit of solidity to the flank where Izaguirre likes to rampage forward.

Hamilton went with a 5-4-1, just as they did in the previous meeting between these two sides with the same aim of getting numbers behind the ball when not in possession. Their back five sat deep and were able to spread across most of the width of the narrow Douglas Park pitch. The midfield four sat just in front of them but stepped up to press the Celtic midfield when they had the ball in the Hamilton half. “Every time they step into our half we go and press them”, said the Hamilton boss, Billy Reid. Nigel Hasselbaink was the lone front man and he worked hard all game, closing the Celtic defenders when required but mostly dropping back to supplement his team’s midfield.

Two intriguing tactical decisions by the home side

1. In order to stop the aforementioned Hasselbaink from being isolated, Hamilton looked to support him from the midfield – aside from one player, who we’ll come to next – but also from players within the back five. The fullbacks were an obvious choice to do this but occasionally you could see centre-back, Simon Mensing, galloping up field. It was a mere footnote in the game however, with Hamilton content to do little of the attacking and the game much more about their defence against Celtic’s attack.

2. One of Hamilton’s midfield quartet, Gavin Skelton, was given an old fashioned man marking job on Patrick McCourt, following him virtually everywhere he went.

Skelton man marks McCourt (circled). Notice also Hasselbaink (red) in his side's own half, helping in defence

Skelton did such a good job that it prompted Celtic to switch McCourt with Forrest after roughly 35 minutes. It was a change that freed up the Northern Irishman somewhat, giving him time to turn and face up-field after receiving the ball. He was also able to drift infield in search safe in the knowledge that Skelton would no longer be stuck to him like glue.

McCourt (yellow) switched with Forrest (red)

Nevertheless, Celtic’s attack was no less blunt and after taking a questionable lead, Hamilton were able to stop the away side from having an attempt on target before the break. This can be put down to some major problems:

The injury forced selection of Stokes as a lone striker was out of Celtic’s control but had quite an impact on their attack due to the type of player that he is and the set up of the side around him. He lacks the pace to get in behind defences and usually looks to drop off a strike partner, something that we have seen work quite well with Gary Hooper. Despite this, he seemed to be asked to play a role similar to Samaras’ against Rangers at Ibrox. Stokes doesn’t have Samaras’ pace, aerial prowess or the ability to occupy numerous defenders and this highlights how you cannot simply change one player for another and expect them to do the same job. Stokes needed more support from his team mates and players breaking beyond him but didn’t get this, with the Hamilton centre-backs – containing two spare men – easily forcing him to miscontrol. There were times when he managed to find enough space to take the ball down but the lack of support meant that attacking moves largely broke down. None of the midfield offered the right kind of runs and this shows the thinking behind the signing of Freddie Ljungberg. “We have a lot of midfielders who are quite similar and I think that Fredrik can add another dimension with his running behind the opponent’s defence,” his Swedish team mate, Daniel Majstorovic has recently said.

Celtic also failed to get enough crosses into the box, particularly from the fullbacks who, due to the Hamilton formation, were those best positioned to be the spare men in attack. This is not such a significant point given the lack of players getting into the box but on the few occasions there were targets to aim for the delivery was usually poor or unforthcoming.

Second Half

Celtic needed a change and it came through James Forrest moving  up front alongside Stokes. He played on the shoulder of the defence,  looking to break behind them and this was especially true when McCourt was on the ball. The youngster’s pace presented Hamilton with a different threat and helped to stretch them slightly, opening up space for Stokes.

Forrest (yellow) bursts ahead of Stokes (red) after McCourt's through pass

Just moments later Forrest (yellow) again gets in behind the defence after a good through pass from Stokes (red). Flight of ball shown due to difficulty to see ball in this image.

Unfortunately, this partnership with was cut short due to yet another contentious refereeing decision when Forrest was sent off after attempting to block a clearance from David Buchanan.  Celtic were left with an up hill task and in need of another change which came in the form of Scott Brown in place of Beram Kayal. The Israeli had been one of the better performers, showing good use of the ball and was often the one barking at his team to get things going. Brown’s introduction was possibly to add a bit of bite and energy to proceedings and the tempo of the Celtic’s play noticeably increased after he came on. Hamilton meanwhile, showed the confidence of a side at the bottom of the table and instead of making use of their extra man they seemed to be stunned by the position they now found themselves in.

The two sides were numerically evened up a few minutes after Brown came on when fellow substitute, Hamilton’s Jim McAllister, was rightly sent off for a reckless and dangerous lunge on Mark Wilson. It was now ten against ten, giving Celtic the chance to take advantage of the increase in space on the pitch and they responded with the substitution Niall McGinn for Wilson. Celtic switched to a back three of Rogne, Majstorovic and Izaguirre with the latter asked to get forward at almost any opportunity. McGinn came into the right hand side of a midfield three but was given licence to use his fresh legs to support attacks wherever possible, though still get back when the ball was lost. A final substitution – Ljungberg for Ledley –  meant another tactical shift with Celtic now deployed in a loose 3-4-2 formation though it was pretty much throw everyone forward when in possession of the ball.

Hamilton made little change to their own set up with it just being a case of ‘backs to the wall’ and keep Celtic out at all costs. This culminated firstly through the denial of a stonewall penalty – for which McGinn was wrongly booked for diving – before the referee got a penalty decision right. A knee to midriff challenge on Izaguirre in the box resulted in a penalty which Stokes expertly stuck away.


It would be impossible to comment on this game without mention of the officials as they probably had as big – if not more than – an impact as any tactical decisions from the boss. That said, Billy Reid must get credit for they way that he set his side out as they really made it difficult for Celtic to create chances. From Celtic’s point of view it was perhaps a mistake to line up in the same way as we did against Rangers and should have altered the way we played to counter the different opposition and to fit the players – namely Stokes – we had available. There’s no getting away from the standard of refereeing though and one can only imagine the distress it can cause managers when it affects the game to such an extent.




Graham, Canning, McLaughlin (McAlister 63), Mensing,  Buchanan;

F Paixao, Gillespie (Wilkie 82), Skelton, Imrie;

Hasselbaink (Casalinuovo 82)

Subs not used: Murdoch, M Paixao, Elebert, Curier



Wilson (McGinn 67), Rogne, Majstorovic, Izaguirre;

Forrest, Ledley (Ljungberg 75), Kayal (Brown 59), Mulgrew;



Subs not used: Zaluska, Juarez, Crosas, Towell

7 Comments leave one →
  1. January 14, 2011 2:36 pm

    just so people know, illness (nothing serious) is to blame for lack of articles in 2011. tictacs88 is better now and raring to go!

  2. Darth Vidar permalink
    January 14, 2011 2:57 pm

    Hope you’re feeling better! Good analysis as usual. Raging at the ref’s performance but you have to say Celtic didn’t deserve much out the match either so a draw was probably right in that sense.

    However, Neil Lennon is right to use the word “staggering” about the first goal. Probably the ONLY time a linesman showuld make the right call 100 times out of a 100 is at a set piece when he is stood right across the line, and even has the 6 yard line for a marker. Not even as if the guy drifted from an onside position. So the linesman MUST HAVE seen him before the ball was kicked. After all, it’s his ONLY job. And then to not give the call when he let’s it run through his legs, blocking the keepers line of sight? Attrocious.

    I’m all for the “human error” argument (after all, it’s factual that it does happen.) But to use this as an excuse, you may as well just have the players picking up the ball and running into the nets, such is the blatent disregard for the most basic laws of the game. Unforgiveable.

    Collum simply should be demoted to the lower leagues. How many game changing blatently wrong big decisions does one guy get to make? “Scotland’s Premier Ref”? Pfft.

    And that’s without the Niall penalty. Which he get’s booked for of course!

    • January 14, 2011 3:23 pm

      Completely agree. If a referee performed like he has in say, the english premier league, they would have been demoted long ago let alone put in charge of a game involving a side he has previous with. I try not to go too much into refereeing on here and focus on tactics but they don’t half make that difficult sometimes. Also like you say, Celtic didn’t do enough on their own either.

  3. NickMcD permalink
    January 14, 2011 7:50 pm

    Good work – Great to have you back

  4. JeanPierre LeGuerre permalink
    January 18, 2011 3:30 pm

    typically thorough.

    Unfortunately, the team didn’t do enough on the night. Yes – the refereeing was amateurish at best, but let’s leave that to other sites, and concentrate on the tactics here. Unfortunately coaching staff and players underperformed. It was a horrible night to be a Celtic fan – disinterested players (some…), bad tactical choices, poor use of the bench, lack of chances created.

    Sorry to say, I think it is 2 very costly points dropped as it handed the initiative right back to the huns.

  5. January 22, 2011 1:21 pm

    A really impressive, in-depth assertion. Top work mate.

    • January 24, 2011 10:08 pm

      Thanks very much. Have to say I enjoy your site too, good to have more Celtic discussion of this type on the web.

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