Manager Gordon Strachan has been assessing his squad as they returned from international duty to Lennoxtown in their dribs and drabs. The good news for the boss is that the players seem for the most part unscathed and Aiden McGeady and Stephen McManus should be fit for Saturday after recovering from minor knocks. "We're doing fine" said the boss "Scott McDonald's not back yet, he got in at 6am this morning so we let him go to his bed, have a sleep and we'll see him tomorrow morning."
"Apart from that the rest of the squad is back," he added "but because so many have been away we've only had about 15 minutes to put a shape together and some ideas in the guys' minds to play against Hamilton tomorrow. That's not a lot of time, but you have to accept the demands of international football when you have a lot of good players."
Celtic return to Paradise after over a month on the road and they'll be hoping to pick up from where they left off. The last home game was the 7-0 thrashing of St Mirren and the support will be hoping that the team can recreate the form that they showed that day. Gary Caldwell said he was swapping World Cup pressure for SPL pressure as Celtic resume the fight to clinch four-in-a-row and he knows that nothing less than victory over Hamilton Accies tomorrow is acceptable.
"I'm going back to the stress of playing with Celtic but I'm looking forward to it." said Caldwell. "It's the time of the season where every game is important and anything dropped is going to be vital, so you have to be on your game. There are nine games to go, nine big games but we know that if we win them then we are champions again. You treat a game against Hamilton the same as you would an international game. It is physically demanding. You rest, recuperate and, come Saturday, we will be raring to go again."
With their main rivals not playing until Sunday, the Celts will be hoping to extend their lead at the top of the SPL table to six points but the manager is certainly not thinking that three points from the Accies can be taken for granted. "We played them earlier in the season where Billy was trying to play open football," said boss Strachan. "and after a couple of results in that period he decided to redesign his team and make sure they were more difficult to beat,"
"They've done that." he continued. "They play an interesting formation which makes it very, very difficult to score goals against them. They've become more pragmatic in the way they look at the job and the way they get the job done and they are very difficult to beat. I'm not surprised with how well they have done this season, I thought it would be hard for them to break into the top six, but I thought they had a chance of causing problems. It's panned out the way I thought it would."
A rare goal from Paul Hartley saw the Celts take all three points at Hamilton in November and the manager remembers just how tough that game was "It was one of our harder games and they played very well." he said. "It was at the start of their new system there and that kind of threw us for a while. They played very well, we weren't at our best and all we really had was determination and that's what got us through."
Despite the manager's talking-up of the opposition, as is his want, if this Celtic team show the form that we know they are capable of then, in this observers eyes, Hamilton Accies could be on the receiving end of a St Mirren type thrashing. (The team are also capable of thoroughly miserable performances as they showed at New St Mirren Park just a week after the rout of the Buddies but we won't dwell on that.) Anyway, as Annie Lennox said when she was a tourist, it's so good to be back home again! Hail! Hail!