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Dumbarton 4 Hamilton 1: Front runners falter as things come to a head

WORDS could not describe the feelings of the Hamilton Academical players on Saturday evening.

Alex Neil, right, and Mark Gilhaney exchange words before Neil is shown a red card. Picture: SNS
Alex Neil, right, and Mark Gilhaney exchange words before Neil is shown a red card. Picture: SNS

There were few among a forlorn squad willing to try, a defeat by Dumbarton sticking in the throats of many who sought just to sidestep the schiltron of Dictaphones and make their way home quietly. They left behind only whispers that the SPFL Championship title is now out of sight, obscured beneath the debris of an afternoon in which the club's aspirations had blown up.

The throes of a campaign cater for hyperbole and Hamilton are still just two points behind Dundee, the team which will spend this week back at the head of the table. It is likely that the Dens Park side will consider that to be befitting of their station - the Tayside club were expected at the start of the season to secure automatic promotion - and will give little thought to the exact steps taken should they arrive in the top flight this weekend. The league leaders will play Dumbarton at home on Saturday.

Hamilton will be unable to think about anything else. They entered Dumbarton ahead by a nose in the title race but have been made to appear lame by the concession of four goals and loss of temper of player-manager Alex Neil. As the Hamilton players gathered together in the centre circle at full time it was almost expected that officials would begin to erect screens, as another prepared the bolt gun.

Any hopes the Lanarkshire side have of claiming the title are now thin on the ground, or two of them more specifically, given that Hamilton must beat Morton at New Douglas Park and rely on Dumbarton to win at Dens. "At this point we are as down as we are ever going to be as we have blown a great opportunity," said Martin Canning, the Hamilton defender, whose side will most likely be left to compete for promotion through the play-offs.

"It is the old adage in football and the manager told us that goals change games, and if we got the second goal to go 2-1 up we would probably have gone on and won the game. We didn't and Dumbarton did, and we got a man sent off, and it ended up becoming a bit of a struggle. You live in hope that we can still win the title. We have to win next week against Morton and hope that Dumbarton can do to Dundee something like what they did to us [on Saturday]."

He was inclined to be vague. The conditions which contributed to a compelling performance from Dumbarton on Saturday cannot be recreated this week; the side were playing in their final home league fixture of the campaign and still had a chance to claim a place in the promotion play-offs by earning a victory.

The part-time side remain on the shoulder of fourth-placed Queen of the South but can no longer see a way past, given the Dumfries side's superior goal difference.

"We're playing full-time teams week in, week out so to finish fifth is no easy achievement and everyone around the club should take great pride in doing it," said Andy Graham, the Dumbarton defender, whose side will require a 12-goal swing on the final day to finish in fourth place.

Neil was guided more by contrition afterwards, the experienced midfielder having been sent off for butting his head towards Mark Gilhaney as the pair squabbled over the ball on the touchline not long after the home side had edged ahead. The punishment extended to the concession of two more goals.

It was a moment unbecoming of a manager and, while he admonished Gilhaney for an overreaction - the Dumbarton midfielder would drop to the ground, only to spring back up again to remonstrate with Neil - the 32-year-old acknowledged simply that he "shouldn't have done it".

"It was a ruckus and I tried to get in the middle of it to break it up. It's not what you want to see," Graham added. It was possible that he was speaking for the Hamilton players too.

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