Hooper stakes claim for a big-money exit
Published 24/01/2013 | 07:00
Celtic 4 Dundee United 0: Two goals from Gary Hooper helped Celtic to a convincing home Clydesdale Bank Premier League win over Dundee United and undoubtedly stiffened manager Neil Lennon's resolve to get the best price possible for the striker if he is to leave Parkhead this month.
Before kick-off Lennon confirmed his striker had turned down a contract offer while also revealing that the club had turned down another offer from Norwich after rejecting a bid, reported to be about £5million, for the 24-year-old last week.
Hooper, who has 18 months left on his current deal, showed why he is attracting increasing interest when he converted a Georgios Samaras pass in the 19th minute before midfielder Victor Wanyama headed in number two before the break.
Former Scunthorpe striker Hooper struck again 10 minutes from time to take his tally to 22 before he set up substitute Scott Brown for the fourth as United, whose boss Peter Houston will leave at the end of the season, were left thankful that their defeat had not been more demoralising.
Lennon tinkered with his side following their 4-1 home win over Hearts at the weekend, in which Hooper had also grabbed a double.
Defender Thomas Rogne, midfielder Beram Kayal and striker Lassad Nouioui came in for Adam Matthews, Brown and Kris Commons, the latter out of the squad altogether with a rib injury.
Celtic were captained by Samaras and in the third minute he headed a Charlie Mulgrew free-kick past the post from eight yards.
In an unusually open start to the game, Hooper hooked the ball wide of the target before ex-Celtic midfielder Willo Flood fired off target from the edge of the box.
Hooper then headed a Samaras cross over the bar from six yards and the match continued to swing from end to end with both defences looking porous.
It was Celtic who were first to benefit when Lassad raced away on a counter-attack and when he moved the ball wide to Samaras his first-time pass to the unmarked Hooper saw him finish confidently.
In the 32nd minute Celtic should have doubled their lead when Hooper sent Lassad clear but a great tackle by Gavin Gunning thwarted the striker. However the loss of the second goal was only delayed.
Mulgrew's corner was cleared out to Mikael Lustig and when he swung a cross to the back post the unmarked Wanyama powered home a header back across goal.
Three minutes from the break Wanyama headed a Mulgrew corner off the post and there was still time for Samaras to drive just wide of the far post.
Celtic remained in control in the second half but for 35 minutes they were scoreless until Celtic broke with pace again and Samaras set up Hooper to score with a neat flick at the near post.
Anthony Stokes replaced Lassad for his first appearance since last August but it was Brown, on for Kayal, who curled in goal number four to leave the champions 12 points clear at the top of the table.