Hooper sends Celtic into winter break nine points clear
SOCCER: Celtic 1 Motherwll 0:The second day of 2013 offered the latest snapshot of Scottish football’s changed scene, albeit one laced with familiarity. Traditionally an Old Firm match would dominate the festive fixture calendar. With that in mind, the sight of Rangers travelling to Annan Athletic and Celtic hosting Motherwell on new year league business was novel.
More predictable was the identity of those who played such a crucial role in Celtic’s win.
Fraser Forster’s save from a Tom Hateley penalty 15 minutes from time kept the scores level, with the man who may some time join the goalkeeper in the England international set-up, Gary Hooper, notching the winning goal soon afterwards.
The victory sends Neil Lennon’s side into the winter break nine points clear of Inverness.
In fine form
Hooper was considered by Roy Hodgson in November but a hamstring injury prevented the forward from being named in the England party for the friendly with Sweden. Given Hooper’s continued fine form, he could well come into the manager’s thinking for the game with Brazil next month.
Before then Celtic have to ensure Hooper (24) is not coaxed south on a permanent basis. Liverpool’s signing of Daniel Sturridge will douse speculation that Hooper is bound for Anfield but other clubs are keeping a close watch. He is yet to sign an extension to his contract, which expires in June 2014.
“Definitely,” replied the Celtic coach, Garry Parker, when asked if Hooper will still be in Glasgow beyond this transfer window. “Why would he want to leave when we still have Champions League football this season? ”
Hooper’s talent is such that he will be courted once again at the end of the season. In a purely playing sense the Celtic staff will appreciate the brief winter break now afforded to SPL teams, given the 35 competitive fixtures their team have already played.
Celtic squander a series of first-half chances while being troubled by Motherwell’s pace on the counter-attack. The second half had been a more tame affair before Kelvin Wilson upended Jamie Murphy, playing his last match before joining Sheffield United, inside the area.
There was little wrong with Hateley’s spot-kick but Forster supplied a wonderful, one-handed save high to his right. “If the goalkeeper goes the right way, nine times out of 10 he will save it because he has such a big frame,” said Motherwell’s manager, Stuart McCall.
His side were later denied a second penalty as Murphy tumbled under Forster’s challenge. “I don’t think you get two, do you, at Parkhead?” McCall added. “It’s a bit like Old Trafford in that regard.”
Between those incidents Hooper struck. He played the ball wide to Georgios Samaras, who sent it back to his team-mate with a low pass for Hooper to knock the ball beneath Darren Randolph.