Neil Lennon’s in-game management yesterday during Celtic’s Scottish Premiership victory over Hamilton was superb.
With the game deadlocked at 1-1 and the home side withdrawing into a ten-man defence, it became obvious we needed fresh legs and fresh ideas on the pitch to pick up all three points.
Substitutes Ryan Christie and Tom Rogic both produced wonderful assists for Christopher Jullien and Odsonne Edouard, showing the kind of class and depth we have available on the bench.
Not much has been said about the impact of Jonny Hayes though, who provided a real spark on the left flank when he came into the game in the 72nd minute.
Greg Taylor wasn’t quite playing at the level he managed against St Johnstone and while some fans were likely crying out for an attacking substitution, the Hayes introduction worked out just fine.
His pace brought a new threat to the match while his industriousness and desire actually led to us making our breakthrough and taking the lead in the match.
With the ball going out for a throw-in following another set-piece, Hayes recognised that the Hamilton defence wasn’t quite set or planted in its rigid formation and literally vaulted over the advertising boards to retrieve the ball.
His quick action in vaulting back over the advertising and taking the throw-in allowed Celtic to up the tempo, giving Christie both the freedom to ping a ball into the box and Jullien the space to find himself unmarked to fire home.
Celtic were 2-1 ahead and thanks to the aforementioned efforts of Christie and Rogic eventually won 4-1.
The value of Hayes’ contribution was apparent in the aftermath.
As pundits on Radio Scotland pointed out (02/02 Scottish Football podcast, 11:35), Lennon entered the pitch in celebration of Jullien’s goal to greet Hayes first and foremost, likely knowing it was his quick thinking that gave the Hoops that slight edge to exploit Hamilton.
It’s this kind of teamwork that is really pulling Celtic through this season.
Individually, Hayes might not be the most celebrated Hoops player. Certainly, some of his performances haven’t been great over the last few months.
Nonetheless, he remains a trusted member of Lennon’s team and is going to give his all for Celtic every time.
This time his inclusion paid off.