Dedryck Boyata responded to a fans’ banner claiming he was “not fit to wear the jersey” by scoring the only goal as Celtic beat Hamilton.
The Belgian, the subject of a rejected bid from Fulham, ruled himself out of recent games, claiming he was injured.
Manager Brendan Rodgers refuted the defender’s claims, and said he was “sad” at the situation.
But Boyata’s close range finish earned Celtic the points despite a lacklustre performance from the champions.
The victory moves Celtic into second in the Premiership before next Sunday’s Old Firm derby with Rangers.
Before that, Rodgers’s side host FK Suduva of Lithuania at Celtic Park on Thursday in the second leg of the Europa League play-off round, having drawn the first leg 1-1.
Hamilton, meanwhile, remain in the bottom half of the table, but will take consolation from the concession of just one goal in two away games after a home humbling by Hearts.
Celtic nowhere near their best
Just before kick-off, the earnest section of the Celtic support hoisted an anti-Boyata banner that declared him unfit to wear the jersey. It’s just as well as he did.
The Belgian’s behaviour has caused understandable anger around the club in recent weeks, but his tap-in finish just after the hour didn’t half lift the mood inside the stadium. Leigh Griffiths’ corner was flicked on by Moussa Dembele and then headed back across goal by Mikael Lustig for Boyata to poke home.
That was the breakthrough that Celtic had toiled to find. Finally they had broken Hamilton’s resistance, not to mind conquered their own lack of accuracy.
They had had moments – plenty of them. Hamilton had survived scares from James Forrest, Callum McGregor and a number of close-run things from Dembele.
The striker – along with Griffiths – got more game-time into his legs. No goals, but the mere fact that he was out there and getting chances will have encouraged his manager.
Celtic were far from free-flowing or impressive, though. Forrest and Kieran Tierney did their best to fire them up, but there was a lack of wit and ruthlessness in trying to cut through a resolute Hamilton. For all their mountains of possession, they were nowhere near their best. They were on different wavelengths too often.
Hamilton manager Martin Canning had cause to be frustrated at the simplicity of the goal, but his side’s organisation was good and their spirit was obvious. On the back of their fine win against Motherwell a week ago, this was a day that should give them heart.
Reluctant Celt makes valuable contribution – analysis
Boyata, the apparently reluctant Celt, managed to get himself in the right place at the right time to make sure an underwhelming performance still managed to bring three valuable points. After the full-time whistle, the entire Celtic team – including the manager – did a mini-tour of the pitch and wandered down to the end where the banner had been raised. It was conspicuous by its absence.
Where now for Boyata? Heaven knows. Celtic have been linked with the 20-year-old Le Havre centre-back, Harold Moukoudi, but are they really going to let the Belgian go and replace him with another rookie? He might not be the flavour of the month for some Celtic fans, but Rodgers still sees him as his top centre-back. “We’re better when he’s in the team,” he said, pre-match.
Celtic move onwards into a huge week. A Europa League game on Thursday and then Rangers on Sunday. They got through this one. In seven days, when Steven Gerrard brings his team to Parkhead, the occasion promises to be a little more thunderous.