Celtic 2 Hamilton 0
Niall McGinn eased Celtic’s nerves with an injury-time strike against Hamilton which helped take the Hoops to within a point of Clydesdale Bank Premier League leaders Rangers.
Glenn Loovens volleyed in Barry Robson’s corner after 14 minutes but the home side squandered a series of chances to make life easier for themselves.
The frustrated home fans did not rest easy until McGinn, on for Scott McDonald on the hour mark, fired a wonderful drive past Tomas Cerny.
It was not the best performance of the season from Tony Mowbray’s side but the win puts pressure on the Ibrox men who play their game in hand against Hibernian at Easter Road tomorrow.
Celtic’s new South Korean signing, Ki Sung-yueng, was introduced to the Parkhead fans before the kick-off, although the home support was noticeably smaller than normal despite a discount offer for children.
Perhaps the stay-away Celtic fans saw the game as a mere formality. The Hoops had not lost to Hamilton at Parkhead since 1939 and the visitors had lost 15 goals in total in their last three visits to the east end of Glasgow.
The opening stages were played in almost silence but in the eighth minute Celtic’s on-form midfielder Aiden McGeady brought the crowd to life when he latched on to Landry N’Guemo’s searching pass from inside his own half.
The Republic of Ireland player turned inside and curled a left-footed drive towards the far post forcing Accies keeper Cerny in to a fine save.
However, in the 14th minute, after good work from McGeady originally had led to another corner, the home side took the lead through Loovens.
Robson’s cross from the left found the Dutchman 12 yards out and he sent a left-footed volley past Cerny and already the destiny of the points appeared settled.
As Celtic took complete control, right back Andreas Hinkel drove in to the Hamilton box but his ball across the six-yard box was too powerful for McDonald.
A sense of complacency seemed to creep in to the Hoops’ play with striker Georgios Samaras wasteful on a couple of occasions.
A long-range drive from McGeady tested Cerny but it was a surprise that the Parkhead men were not pressing home their superiority.
The Lanarkshire side were offering no real threat to the Celtic goal but as the first half continued they began pushing for the leveller.
Five minutes from the break Hamilton midfielder Marco Paixao tried an ambitious shot from his own half but Celtic keeper Artur Boruc earned a round of applause by bringing the ball down on his chest. Accies introduced the other Paixao twin, Flavio, for the start of the second half with defender Mark McLaughlin kept inside.
However, with barely a minute played Robson missed a great chance when he blasted over from 14 yards after N’Guemo had set him up after driving at the Accies box.
When Samaras fired high and wide with an angled drive moments later, it was yet another example of the sloppy play which had blighted the home team’s first-half display.
The visitors were slowly growing in confidence but in the 54th minute they had to rely on striker Antoine-Curier to clear Loovens’ header off the line after the former Cardiff City defender had again got his head to a Robson corner.
Then Cerny grabbed McGeady’s 20-yard drive at the second attempt after the Parkhead midfielder had found a yard of space to get a shot in.
On the hour mark Celtic boss Tony Mowbray brought on Marc-Antoine Fortune and McGinn for Robson and McDonald and within a minute Fortune drew a decent save from Cerny with a low drive.
But moments later Hamilton almost grabbed a shock equaliser when Flavio Paixao’s volley from the edge of the box had Boruc scrambling to his left to parry with Accies failing to capitalise on the loose ball.
Cerny had a good finger-tip save from Danny Fox’s 25-yard free-kick and then Fortune beat the Accies keeper but saw his shot rebound off the post.
Minutes later Samaras burst in to the Hamilton box but watched his little dink speed past Cerny and then the far post, before Fortune again had a powerful shot blocked by Cerny.
With 10 minutes remaining Celtic substitute midfielder Zheng Zhi was pitched on for the luckless Samaras but the nervousness around Celtic Park intensified.
Two minutes later Celtic were let off the hook when Flavio Paixao drove the ball past Boruc only to see referee Stevie O’Reilly point for a Celtic foul because the ball had seconds earlier struck the arm of Marco Paixao after he took a fresh-air swipe at the ball.
But in the first minute of added time McGinn fired in a wonderful drive from 20 yards to calm the nerves and wrap up the points.