| 7°C Dublin

Lennon piles praise on Hooper


Celtic manager Neil Lennon. Photo: Getty Images

Celtic manager Neil Lennon. Photo: Getty Images

Celtic manager Neil Lennon. Photo: Getty Images

Neil Lennon may have declined to be drawn on whether Gary Hooper is his best signing so far - but the Celtic boss has no doubt that he has unearthed a gem.

The striker was on the scoresheet twice as the Hoops romped to an emphatic 3-0 win over Rangers, before turning provider for Kris Commons to seal the victory at Parkhead to move Celtic eight points clear in the Clydesdale Bank Premier League.

A CV that included stints at Southend and Scunthorpe, with loans spells at Leyton Orient and Hereford United, may not have set the pulse racing.

But there is little doubt the Englishman has been a revelation since his arrival at Celtic last summer, with his Old Firm double taking his tally for the season so far to 15 goals.

Asked if Hooper is, pound for pound, his best purchase, Lennon said: "That's a good question. I don't know. I'll let you know at the end of the season.

"He's excellent. He's only 23, let's give the kid a bit of time to see how his career progresses but I think we can all see what a good all-round player he is.

"He has always been a good player. He is a good footballer, has a great first touch.

"His first touch took him away from David Weir, he left him in his wake and it was a wonderful finish. Once he gets in there, you always fancy him to score.

"He made up some ground for the second goal and it was a beautiful goal."

There is also little doubt that the January capture of Commons - also a target of Rangers - was a worthwhile acquisition for Lennon.

The Hoops boss said: "We spent £300,000 on Kris Commons and I think that was a decent bit of business and we are pretty happy with the way things are going so far.

"He has performed very well and he is a better player now that he was when I was at Nottingham Forest with him.

"I'm delighted with his form so far. There is a maturity about him: he's 27 and nothing seems to faze him.

"He's always had an eye for goal but he can go past people and provide a good delivery so we are delighted with his contribution.

"There are other important players as well - Hooper, Beram Kayal, and I thought Georgios Samaras was world class in the game."

Rangers boss Walter Smith has made no secret of the lack of funds at the Ibrox club and the difficulties in being forced to operate with such a small squad.

But Lennon believes the cash has had at his disposal in his first full season as Celtic boss has been used shrewdly.

He said: "We feel we have spent the money well. We have been imaginative and productive with the money that was spent.

"I did sell Aiden McGeady, Artur Boruc, Marc-Antoine Fortune and Stephen McManus and you always worry that might come back and bite you.

"It's not as though we've been spending money willy-nilly and not recouping any money. We actually had a surplus of money in the positive by August."

PA Media