HAMILTON player-manager Alex Neil was full of praise for his ‘magnificent’ team after their historic 1-0 win at Celtic took them top of the Scottish Premiership.
Ali Crawford fired the only goal after the break to give Accies their first victory at Celtic Park in 74 years and a one-point lead over second-placed Dundee United.
Celtic, who slumped to their second league defeat of the season, were guilty of woeful finishing in front of goal with Anthony Stokes and Leigh Griffiths the chief culprits.
But the headlines belonged to the newly-promoted side, who are now six points clear of the reigning champions with a 10-game unbeaten run since the opening day representing their best start to a top-flight campaign since 1936-37.
“It’s a magnificent achievement. Having such a young group, I was extremely proud of them. They were magnificent, right throughout the team,” a delighted Neil said after his side’s fourth win in five away league games.
“It’s been an excellent start but this is the pinnacle of our season so far.”
Despite seeing his team drop to sixth, albeit with a game in hand on those above, Celtic boss Ronny Deila admitted he is “not worried at all” by their indifferent form but described the loss, which followed August’s 1-0 reverse by Inverness, as “a very disappointing day”.
The Hoops, who failed to score in a domestic home match for the first time in over a year, spurned a host of clear-cut opportunities with Jason Denayer going closest when his header was cleared off the line by Crawford.
“With so many chances, you should win the game, no question. But of course you need to put the ball in the net. Sometimes football is like that,” bemoaned Deila, who was subjected to boos from some home fans at the full-time whistle.
Celtic were searching for a fourth straight victory in all competitions but could have trailed in the opening minute when Stephen Hendrie’s inviting left-wing cross missed two Hamilton players lurking in the penalty area.
The hosts dominated a lively first period with Stokes and on-loan Manchester City forward John Guidetti, ineligible for Thursday’s Europa League win over Dinamo Zagreb, directing shots narrowly wide before Hamilton keeper Michael McGovern denied a Stefan Johansen volley.
But only a timely Virgil van Dijk intervention prevented Mickael Antoine-Curier from a clear sighting of goal as the Lanarkshire visitors, unchanged from last weekend’s 4-0 win at Motherwell, posed a threat on the break.
And Parkhead was stunned into silence four minutes into the second half when midfielder Crawford steered a Hendrie delivery beyond Craig Gordon for his fourth goal of the campaign.
Player-boss Neil, who was booked as an unused substitute for dissent, paid a special compliment to his match-winner: “If you give Ali Crawford time and space to play, he’s got real, real quality.
“He can hit off both feet, he’s got a great range of passing and I think his work-rate and desire has improved considerably in the last season.”
|HAMILTON’S RECORD-BREAKING TOP-FLIGHT UNBEATEN RUN:|
St Mirren 0-2 Hamilton Accies (13 August)
|Hamilton Accies 1-0 St Johnstone (16 August)|
|Partick Thistle 1-2 Hamilton Accies (23 August)|
|Hamilton Accies 4-0 Ross County (30 August)|
|Dundee United 2-2 Hamilton Accies (13 September)|
|Hamilton Accies 0-0 Kilmarnock (20 September)|
|Motherwell 0-4 Hamilton Accies (27 September)|
|Celtic 0-1 Hamilton Accies (5 October)|
Hamilton, who had avoided defeat in just one of their previous 11 matches against Celtic, almost added to their shock lead when Louis Longridge’s shot deflected inches wide off the boot of Efe Ambrose and Tony Andreu curled wide of the same post from 20 yards.
Celtic inevitably turned up the heat in pursuit of a leveller as McGovern kept out a fierce drive by last season’s top scorer Kris Commons, who then turned provider for Stokes to nod off target from a promising position.
As the incessant pressure continued, captain Scott Brown had two weak efforts at goal before Denayer and Griffiths passed up further chances by striking tamely at McGovern.
The frustration amongst the home faithful reached fever pitch as, by virtue of a fourth successive clean sheet, Hamilton clung on for a famous first victory in the east end of Glasgow since 1939.
It was the fourth occasion Celtic have dropped league points already this term but a defiant Deila urged his players to respond against bottom-club Ross County after the international break.
“We have to turn this around and bounce back next match. Still we are into everything and have opportunities to make a very good season.”
Celtic (4-2-3-1): Gordon 6.5, Ambrose 6.5, van Dijk 7, Denayer 7, Izaguirre 6, Brown (C) 7, Johansen 6.5, Wakaso Mubarak 6.5 (Tonev 61′ 4.5), Commons 7, Guidetti 6.5 (Griffiths 61′ 4), Stokes 6.5. Subs not used: Zaluska (GK), O’Connell, Beram Kayal, Berget, Scepovic.
Booked: Johansen, Wakaso Mubarak
Hamilton Accies (4-4-1-1): McGovern (C) 8, Gordon 8.5, Devlin 8, Garcia Tena 8, Hendrie 8.5, Imrie 8, Andreu 8 (Lyon 88′ 2), Gillespie 8, Redmond 7.5 (Longridge 57′ 5.5), Crawford 9.5, Antoine-Curier 8.5 (Ryan 89′ 1.5). Subs not used: Hill (GK), Brophy, Neil, Scotland.
Man of the match: Ali Crawford (Hamilton Accies)
Referee: Steven McLean