Hooper's late strike calms nervy Bhoys
Celtic 1 Motherwell 0
Gary Hooper's late strike gave Celtic victory over Motherwell in their Premier League encounter at Parkhead.
Hoops 'keeper Fraser Forster made a brilliant save from Tom Hateley's penalty, awarded for Kelvin Wilson's challenge on Jamie Murphy, just before the Englishman converted a Georgios Samaras cross from close range with 11 minutes remaining.
Not for the first time this season at home, though, the Scottish champions ended up struggling to get three points from a match that should have been over by the interval.
Wilson gave Forster a ribbing but admitted he was relieved to see the England squad member make the save.
"All keepers are weird and so he is a bit strange, he's a big kid at heart," he said. "He has got a thing about throwing something then hiding. If something hits you on the back of the head, you know it's him.
"But it was a relief and when Hooper scored it made it a perfect ending. It was a little bit of tiredness, it was a stonewall penalty but Fraser made a great save
"I just said well done to him afterwards and he just shook his head as if to say 'that's another one'.
"He is probably the best keeper I have played in front of. I don't know Joe Hart personally but watching him on television he is one of the best keepers in the world, if not the best, and so Fraser is up there as a brilliant number two."
Motherwell's Irish 'keeper Darren Randolph also had his moments as he kept Celtic at bay with a series of saves although there were some glaring misses too before Hooper pounced to take Neil Lennon's side into the winter break nine points clear of Inverness at the top of the table.
Lennon made four changes and returned to a back four after admitting three at the back did not work in the 1-0 defeat by Hibernian at Easter Road on Saturday. In came Adam Matthews, Beram Kayal, Kris Commons and Charlie Mulgrew with skipper Scott Brown, Mikael Lustig, Lassad Nouioui and Thomas Rogne dropping out, the latter two on the bench.
Samaras had the ball in the net from Commons' cross in the second minute but was flagged offside. Commons then flashed a shot from the edge of the box just wide after being set up by Hooper, who then turned and drove wide after taking a Kayal pass with his back to goal.
There was no let-up in the pressure on the Motherwell goal and moments later Randolph flew to his left to pluck a goal-bound Commons shot out of the air.
The Hoops support groaned once more when Victor Wanyama then missed Mulgrew's corner altogether from eight yards, allowing Motherwell to clear their lines.
With seconds remaining Ambrose missed the chance of the half when Randolph dropped Wanyama's header from a Mulgrew corner, the Parkhead defender hooking the ball over the bar from barely two yards.
Celtic had an unconvincing start to the second period but with six minutes gone Randolph tipped a deflected shot from Wanyama over the bar.
Celtic dropped the tempo which allowed Motherwell to breathe slightly easier. Both sides were taking turns to attack but Motherwell were handed a great chance to take the lead when referee Steven McLean adjudged Wilson to have tripped Murphy in the box. But the Motherwell player blew the chance to give his team a parting gift before he joins Shefflied United in a six-figure deal as the Celtic 'keeper flew across to make a great save.
The incident seemed to energise Celtic and they were soon in the lead when Hooper played the ball to Samaras and ran into the box to collect the return pass and slip the ball under Randolph from six yards.
There were some nervy moments before the final whistle as Motherwell went for broke but in the end Celtic held on and deserved their win.