What a difference a couple of weeks can make. After the disappointment of a lacklustre display in the Glasgow derby in December - the outlook for January looked bleak. We were still 2 points ahead in the championship but The The Rangers had a game in hand and looked to be in good form and, dare I say, a genuine threat to our 9 in a row aspirations. We were coming in to a period of lots of hard away fixtures at grounds where we have struggled in recent times, whilst our opponents seemed to have a run of easier fixtures at home or against lower half opposition.
This was going to be a tricky run, and we would need to be in good form to maintain a run at this all important time in the title run in. Last weeks defeat of der hun by lowly Hearts was a boost, but what wasn't expected was a further bonus with them dropping points against an Aberdeen side lacking in its usual competitive edge. Drop points they did giving us a 4 point advantage with the same number of games played.
So on to Hamilton on a tricky surface that we seem to dislike intensely. A one goal victory earlier in the season showed that it was not our favourite place to go and could be tricky if we didn't apply ourselves appropriately.
The game got off to a reasonable start with Ntcham playing in nice ball to the danger area and an early corner. It was six minutes in when the first real opportunity came with Forrest supplying a nice ball in from the right to the chest of Edouard, but the ball was nipped off the tip of his boot to stop the chance of scoring.
The biggest talking point of the game would come at the thirteen minute mark when Griffiths and Gogic were booked for an altercation. Griffiths was caught in a tangle and appeared to have his left foot caught under a player on the deck. His balance was affected which caused his right foot to come down on the player, but it was obvious that there was no malice or intent to injure. Gogic got involved when he wasn't a participant in the altercation and his push on Griffiths saw both players yellow carded.
This was an ominous sign of things to come, because only a wild effort from Ntcham tempered an strong period of play from the home team. McMahon took the ball down the left flank, and despite the efforts of Forrest who was easily brushed aside, he broke into the box near the bye line. It took some good defending from young debutant Welsh to stop a good opportunity, at the expense of a corner.
The resultant cross led to the opening goal as Ogkimpoe (a thorn in Jullien's side for the whole first half) got a run on the French defender to power a header home. As good as we had been at the start of the St Johnstone - that form was not being replicated in Lanarkshire and it was a deserved lead for the home team.
Celtic created a couple of half opportunities in the ensuing minutes with a couple of corners coming our way. Half an hour in and Edouard took the ball beautifully in a turn that left his defender despairing only for his shot to be blocked and to pop up harmlessly into the arms of Southwood in goal, but the equaliser wasn't far away.
Griffiths cleverly turned young Jamie Hamilton 20 yards from goal and the defender was adjudged to have pulled him back - stopping a clear goal scoring opportunity, and he was shown a straight red for his trouble. The resultant free kick was hit with pace, power and dip by Odsonne Edouard and Southwood was left scrambling across goal to no avail, as it nestled comfortably to his left. It was an incredible strike from a difficult spot considering the proximity of the wall. Honours even.
Ogkmpoe was still posing a threat for Hamilton and did well battering his way through but his ball across wasn't met at the back post by a team mate to capitalise on his * play.
Edouard was also posing a threat with another beautiful turn on the 18 yard line only to see his effort blocked twice. Griffiths took the ball in midfield and was tugged back by a Hamilton midfielder - which for some strange reason never merited a booking. The ball was a good 30 yards from goal but Griffiths unleashed a thunderbolt of a strike that stung Southwood's fingertips, but he got enough on it to tip it onto the bar.
With 30 minutes to go Lenny started to make the substitutions that would eventually give the impetus back to the side as Christie came on for Ntcham and Hayes for Taylor, who had been booked and was close to the edge of possibly getting a second yellow. The final substitution was a tactical switch with young Welsh leaving for Tom Rogic to be introduced to the game.
With 15 to go Hayes took a quick shy to Christie who had popped up on the left. A great cross from the Scotland international, returning after his ban from the the Rangers game, was met perfectly by the left foot of Jullien who's strike was despatched past Southwood with great aplomb.
3 minutes later Edouard stretched the advantage when good work from Rogic put the Frenchman in with a deft touch and he struck the ball easily past the keeper at the near post whilst giving the eyes to the other side. This really was a sublime goal from two players with incredible skill levels.
Forrest almost got on the score sheet with Griffiths playing him in nicely on the right but his shot was high and a little wide of the top corner he was aiming for. Edouard came close to getting his hat-trick moments later when Griffiths let the ball through his legs, from a Jullien pass, to the onrushing Forrest. The ball across was straight through to Edouard for him to slide it narrowly past the post, when he really should have scored.
The scoring wasn't over yet, and the final strike would come from the talismanic right winger after some lovely intricate play again. Forrest played the ball infield and Edouard, sensing Griffiths behind him, let the ball through his legs to his strike partner. Griffiths touched the ball round on to the run into the right channel of Edouard, and his ball back fell to the left foot of Forrest. The tricky winger took one touch to let the ball go across his body before unleashing a lovely left footed strike into the top of the Hamilton net.
Final score was Hamilton 1 Celtic 4, and another tough away day negotiated. The focus now turns to Lanarkshire neighbours Motherwell on Wednesday evening and another tough fixture.
This was a game that was ugly for 75 minutes, but ended in the kind of display that was reminiscent of the start of the game at Perth. Not fantastic at times, but we go into the next round of games with a healthy 7 point advantage and a 9 goal cushion in terms of goal difference over our closest rivals, albeit with them still holding a game in hand. The pressure seems to be telling in Govan, and we need to keep it up with every single game.
4 Shots 21
2 Shots on target 6
38% Possession 62%
0 Passes 0
12 Fouls 6
3 Yellow cards 2
1 Red cards 0
0 Offsides 2