PAUL JOHN DYKES’ PLAYER-BY-PLAYER VERDICT:
The giant stopper memorably ran the length of Celtic Park to join in with the celebrations after Scott Brown’s winner. Whether his squad number denotes his height, the weekly wages he draws from St Mary’s Stadium, or the year of Celtic’s most historic victory, Hoops’ fans will hope it is the latter, with the emotional connection to the club being strong enough to keep him in the east end of Glasgow beyond his agreed loan spell.
Does the Austrian cap start the League Cup final on Sunday? He is an assured defender who enjoys the overlap, which always seems to result in a worthwhile cross. However, his delivery style may not be deemed suitable for the striker Neil Lennon has at his disposal when the Cup holders face Rangers at Hampden. Another consideration will undoubtedly be whether the occasion is an ideal one for the livewire Frimpong to make his Glasgow Derby debut. It is a pleasant dilemma for Lenny to ponder in the build-up to the final.
I felt that Taylor started off poorly against Rennes, and his wasteful distribution was pointed out in the analysis of the excellent Celtic by Numbers following the left-back’s European debut in the hoops. This part of his game is so noticeable due to the otherwise excellent ball retention of Celtic as a unit, but he wasn’t as culpable against Hamilton in this department, where he was eager to work up and down the line in the classic Celtic full-back mould.
There is no doubt that the Israeli has been an excellent servant to Celtic over the last six years, but he again failed to impress at centre-half against Hamilton. A few wayward through-balls and anxious moments at the back were enough to convince me that Bitton will never be sufficient back-up in the centre of defence.
The 21-year-old man mountain marshalled the Celtic defence with the natural dominance of the captain he is sure to become. The only disappointment from an a otherwise composed performance was his glaring miss when a second goal would have settled a few nerves in the second-half. He is a first pick for every fixture and will be pivotal for Neil Lennon when he lines up for Celtic’s seventh successive domestic cup final.
Jamesy has played a lot of football this season and looked rather jaded, albeit this could also be attributed to Hamilton doubling-up on him all night. He is always dangerous, although none more so than when he is employed on the right. Despite running out of ideas, he worked tirelessly and is still sure to be a huge influence on the outcome of Sunday’s final.
Brown’s influence has so often come to the fore when most needed in the last few seasons, and last night was no exception as the captain secured Celtic’s 11th consecutive win with an injury time winner. Broony’s still the Ringleader of the Tormentors.
The most consistent performer in the squad, McGregor powers through 90 minutes after 90 minutes. His effectiveness is sometimes overlooked, but he is part of the engine room that keeps this Celtic machine powering on. McGregor has developed into a leader and his passing accuracy is among the finest in European football.
We’ve heard all the plaudits about this former Inverness starlet, and every one of them is justified. Christie’s 17-goal tally this season is a remarkable return from the most improved player in Scottish football. The Comeback Kid was the hero of last year’s League Cup final and he is in the form of his life as he prepares to go into Sunday’s Hampden showpiece.
The Frenchman spurned a chance to make it 2-0, but he did enough to make it into Neil Lennon’s Cup final starting line-up. Had he left following his outspoken comments in the French press during pre-season, I’m not so sure that many Celtic fans would have grumbled too much. But fair play to the former Man City man, who, on his day, has it in his locker to orchestrate the tempo of any match.
Lenny’s makeshift striker, who shone against Rennes in the Europa League, Morgan undoubtedly lacks the natural clinical edge of a fit Edouard or Griffiths. But credit must be given to the Greenock native, who would play anywhere to be involved. With goals arriving from various sources, Lenny might opt to stick with Morgan should Edouard fail to make the cut.
Mikey Johnston shows an infectious verve, trickery and pace every time he takes to the field. Will the youngster make the final XI on Sunday?
Leigh Griffiths received another standing ovation when he entered the fray after 68 minutes. He made a nuisance of himself for the winner and it’s a welcome sight to see Sparky back in the thick of it.
Jeremie Frimpong has quickly endeared himself to the Celtic faithful. Lennon threw him on at right-midfield, and he is likely to start the final on the bench.
COLIN WATT’S POST-MATCH:
A poor performance that turned into a special moment inside Paradise last night as Scott Brown’s injury time winner sent the remaining Parkhead faithful into rapturous joy.
As expected, Hamilton set up with two banks in front of their 18-yard box, but at times they got the ball down and played very well. Moyo and Miller linked up really well for the Accies and they looked very comfortable on the ball.
A rebound from Lewis Morgan’s shot led to the opening goal for Celtic as red hot Ryan Christie dinked the ball over Southwood in the Hamilton goal to give the Bhoys a 1-0 lead. There wasn’t much in the way of chances in the first-half and, honestly, Celtic were quite lucky to go in ahead.
The second-half was more of the same with Hamilton growing more and more into the match as it developed. Fraser Forster pulled off an outstanding save to stop the visitors equalising before there was very little he could do to stop substitute Marios Ogboe’s low shot from going past him.
The reaction from Celtic was like the sleeping giant had been awakened and straight from kick-off they were determined not to let two points drop. Christie went close before Brown picked up a pass from Johnston, ran by two defenders and put the ball across Southwood and into the corner. That move saved what was one of the worst home performances Celtic have put in this season, and turned it into a moment of magic. Coupled with the result our friends from the Other side of the city produced for us tonight, the conclusion of last night’s match made it the best few minutes in the league so far at Parkhead this season.
Special mention to WWE wrestlers Joe Coffey, Mark Coffey and Wolfgang, known as Gallus, who did the Paradise Windfall draw. They are all big Celtic fans and, having met Joe before the Kilmarnock game away, I know they’d have enjoyed that last-minute winner as much as being on the Parkhead pitch.
On to Sunday we go, and hopefully some returning players will add a bit of oomph that was missing against Hamilton. If Celtic can get the ball in behind Helander, he could be in for a horrendous afternoon going by the highlights of Rangers’ game against Aberdeen.
However, until then, we can look back on a poor Celtic performance being injected with incredible scenes at the end. That never-day-die attitude is the mark of champions, and Lenny’s title leaders have collected another three points on the journey to nine-in-a-row.Watch Professor Willy Maley with A Celtic State of Mind