Celtic flex muscles as rivals mind gap
It was the day when Gary Hooper added a couple of goals to his tally for the season – now standing at 20 – and, according to manager Neil Lennon, also added "a couple of million pounds" to his market value.
It was also the day when it became brutally apparent that no amount of reconstruction is going to prevent this Celtic side dominating Scottish football for years to come.
The margin of their 4-1 victory over Hearts could have been doubled and the visitors would have no grounds for complaint. Even though there was only one goal separating the sides going into the last five minutes of the game Hearts were remorselessly crushed.
Celtic, who can increase their advantage by winning their game in hand at home to Dundee United tomorrow, are now nine points and 16 goals ahead of second-placed Inverness Caledonian Thistle and it says much about the mismanagement of Scottish football in general – and of the failure of the SPL in particular – that the main challenge to the champions is coming from a club whose average home attendances barely scrape over the 4,000 mark.
In truth, though, the biggest threat to Celtic are likely to be complacency and ennui.
The success of Lennon's team in the Champions League has raised the profile of the Scottish game and made a minor dent in the coefficient, but, ultimately, only Celtic will benefit from their European adventure.
The income derived from that only serves to widen the gap between Celtic and the rest and, even when Rangers regain their place in the top flight, they will be so far behind their arch rivals in an economic sense that it could take several seasons, at least, for them to catch up.
Hooper took his two goals expertly and was denied a hat-trick only by the tightest of offside decisions. Lennon reiterated Celtic's desire to retain him, but one suspects that, if Norwich doubled the £5m offer rejected last Thursday, he will be sold. Georgios Samaras added to Hooper's opening goal before Jason Holt, with Hearts' only shot of any note, reduced the deficit courtesy of a wicked deflection off Mikael Lustig.
Hooper restored the two-goal cushion before sub Lassad Nouioui added the fourth with a sublime cushioned finish during stoppage time. (© Daily Telegraph, London)