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Lennon: I hope we can keep Hooper

NEIL LENNON has made Gary Hooper his priority summer signing.

The Englishman took his tally for the season to 31 on Sunday with a double against Hibs in the final of the Scottish Cup, but has only 12 months left on his Celtic contract.

In January, Celtic turned down four bids from Norwich to sign Hooper (pictured) with further offers expected over the summer for the 25-year-old former Scunthorpe man.

Lennon is realistic about Celtic's place in the transfer market – unable to compete with Premier League clubs in terms of transfer fees and wages – but feels that there is still a chance of getting Hooper to sign a new deal.

With Anthony Stokes close to signing a new deal, Lennon is ready to push the boat out to ensure that Sunday's cup final victory won't be the last time that his favourite striking partnership are together.

"He's a master goalscorer, I just thought he was wonderful against Hibs," the Celtic boss said about Hooper.

"He and Stokes play so well together at times and have really caught the imagination. If Gary needs to go, then he leaves a great legacy, but he'd be one I would be desperate to keep.

"If he wants to go, he'll be really hard to replace, but we'll do everything we can. I'll do everything I can to keep him."

Hooper's scoring rate dipped after the January speculation over a move from Celtic, with some fans claiming that his mind was elsewhere.

Sunday's Hampden double illustrated the Hooper-Stokes partnership at their best with Lennon brushing aside claims that Hooper lost his focus in the second part of the season.

"He does have dips, every player does, but it seems when Gary has a dip, everyone accuses him of wanting away," the Celtic boss added. "It's absolute rubbish.

"I've never had to lift him. You have a wee chat with him now and again. He's a very quiet kid, but he knows what we think of him. He's probably one of the first names on my team sheet."

A deal for Stokes is expected at some stage this week.


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