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 Posted by ESPN Staff
Apr 4, 2009

Strikers rediscover form as Celts show intent

Celtic piled the pressure on Old Firm rivals Rangers with a convincing win over Hamilton to take them six points clear at the top of the Clydesdale Bank Premier League.

A Georgios Samaras double - his first goals for Celtic since January - came either side of an Aiden McGeady strike as the champions coasted to victory.

Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink came on for Scott McDonald and notched his first goal since September to add the icing on the cake.

Rangers travel to Falkirk tomorrow in disarray after the Ibrox club suspended Barry Ferguson and Allan McGregor following the aftermath of a drinking incident which eventually led to them being handed lifetime Scotland bans.

Celtic took full advantage in a one-side game and can sit back in comfort as the spotlight swings back to their arch-rivals.

Samaras gave the champions the lead in the fifth minute with a well-taken goal and it looked even then as if the points were secure for the champions.

When Celtic right-back Andreas Hinkel burrowed his way diligently towards goal, there seemed to be plenty of yellow jerseys barring his way.

However, his right-footed pass from 30 yards somehow found its way past the hesitant Accies defence and into the box and Samaras calmly dinked the ball over the onrushing Accies goalkeeper Sean Murdoch.

Samaras had scored a penalty for Greece in a midweek win over Israel but it was first SPL goal since January 3 when he netted twice in a 2-2 draw with Dundee United.

Celtic assumed complete control and, in the 20th minute, McGeady jinked past Accies skipper Alex Neil 30 yards from goal and curled a right-footed shot inches past Murdoch's left-hand post.

Two minutes later, Shunsuke Nakamura sent McGeady clear on the left channel with a defence-splitting pass and this time the former Celtic youth player slipped the ball under Murdoch for number two.

The fans came to life again on the half-hour mark when Samaras weaved his way across the park and past some flailing Accies challenges before sending McGeady racing clear.

The Republic of Ireland player's touch was too strong as he steamed towards the box and his toe-poke was blocked by Murdoch, who gathered at the second attempt.

The game was played at walking pace at times as Celtic knocked the ball around, prompting and probing for the third and with Accies unable to do anything positive aside from the occasional break forward.

Four minutes from half-time, after the Hamilton defence had failed to properly deal with a searching Scott Brown pass from the centre circle, McDonald picked up the loose ball and fired just wide from the edge of the box.

In the 50th minute, Samaras took a Marc Crosas pass on the left and set up McDonald with a perfect cutback from the byline which left Murdoch stranded.

The Australia international looked certain to score but his side-footed shot from 10 yards was blocked by Accies stopper Mark McLaughlin, who threw himself in front of the ball.

Three minutes later, Artur Boruc was called on to claw away Joel Thomas' back-header from 10 yards after the Hamilton striker had got on the end of a long McLaughlin free-kick.

It was only a blip though, and a mazy run in to the Accies box by Samaras moments later almost brought the Greek striker his second, the ball in the end bouncing safely through to Murdoch.

Then Nakamura, of all people, failed to pull a wonderful pass from Crosas out of the air as he sped alone in to the Accies box, allowing Murdoch to claim the ball.

But in the 65th minute, seconds after Celtic survived a decent penalty claim by Accies when Gary Caldwell appeared to haul down Thomas inside the box, Samaras grabbed his second and Celtic's third.

Crosas' long ball was controlled on the left by the former Manchester City player and he took his time before going to the left of Martin Canning and firing in to the far corner from an acute angle.

As Koki Mizuno replaced Nakamura, Vennegoor of Hesselink replaced McDonald, and Paddy McCourt came on for McGeady, the only thing really left to decide was whether Samaras would get his hat-trick.

In between the substitutions, though, McLaughlin headed a James Gibson corner off the top of the crossbar.

In the 81st minute, Mizuno sent a free-kick from 30 yards just wide of the target but two minutes later Vennegoor of Hesselink tapped in a Hinkel cutback, his first goal since grabbing a double in September's 3-2 win over Aberdeen.

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