Hooper on double as Celtic click into gear
Ross County 0
Published 23/12/2012 | 05:00
A Gary Hooper double after a frustrating first half helped Celtic romp to victory over Ross County and stretch their lead at the top of the Scottish Premier League to five points with a game in hand.
There were two changes for Celtic as Emilio Izaguirre and Lassad Nouioui replaced Adam Matthews and Mikael Lustig, with James Forrest back on the bench. County had Rocco Quinn in for Ross Tokely but for much of the half it seemed irrelevant which personnel were fielded by the Staggies as they toiled to get possession. The early chances reflected Celtic's domination as both Hooper and Nouioui planted headers just below the crossbar, where the former Hoops keeper Mark Brown clutched both.
It took County over a quarter of an hour to threaten but it proved a close call for Celtic as Alex Cooper released Quinn for a powerful shot that went only narrowly over the top. The movement overwhelmingly proceeded towards the other end of the field, yet the best two chances of the first half fell again to the visitors.
Quinn was once more the man with the goal in his sights when prompted on the right of the box by Cooper. Although he could – and probably should – have taken a touch, Quinn chose to go for the quick shot and Fraser Forster was able to save. The goalkeeper was also forced to earn his corn soon afterwards when Quinn returned the favour to Cooper, who would surely have found the net had he chosen a flick into either corner.
However, he struck his effort off Forster and behind for a corner. Profligacy is usually punished in such circumstances and the consequences were visited upon Derek Adams's side in short order.
Celtic pressed them back on their own lines straight from the restart and were behind within a minute when Scott Brown was sprung free by Hooper inside the box. The captain took a touch and fired his shot low across his namesake's body and into the far corner.
At 1-0 County could still cause trouble but that option was removed in the 52nd minute when Lassad crossed crisply for Hooper to head his 50th SPL goal, although Brown got a sprawling hand to it.
The Celtic forward doubled his tally with another header 10 minutes later from a Charlie Mulgrew corner headed on by Victor Wanyama, before Forrest came off the bench after two months' absence through injury, and celebrated with a sprint and deflected shot to make it 4-0.
In Inverness, Caley Thistle also enjoyed a goal spree as they returned to second place at the expense of Dundee, a rout that began when Richie Foran was toppled in the box by Declan Gallagher and Billy McKay converted to extend Inverness's record of scoring in every game this season.
Dundee drew level almost instantly through Nicky Riley, who took a touch on a cross from John Baird before sending his drive past Antonio Reguero. However, Owain Tudur-Jones restored the Highlanders's advantage with an explosive shot, McKay netted his 18th of the season after rounding Rab Douglas and curling the ball over the line, and Andrew Shinnie made it 4-1 with a fierce shot. In the other SPL fixture, Aberdeen drew level with fourth-placed Hibernian when Niall McGinn scored two in the second half against St Johnstone at Pittodrie.
Meanwhile, Rangers's resources are now emphatically obvious in SFL3 where they thrashed Elgin City 6-2 – and missed a late penalty kick – with doubles from Andrew Little and Lee McCulloch, and contributions from Kyle Hutton and Lewis McLean to post a nine-point lead at the top of the table.
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