Sport Soccer

Sunday 17 December 2017

Stokes thrilled with Hooper partnership

Celtic 1
Aberdeen 0

Anthony Stokes celebrates his winning goal against Aberdeen which stretched Celtic's lead at the top of the SPL. Photo: Reuters
Anthony Stokes celebrates his winning goal against Aberdeen which stretched Celtic's lead at the top of the SPL. Photo: Reuters

Ronnie Esplin

Neil Lennon praised strike duo Anthony Stokes and Gary Hooper after they combined for the second week in succession to fire Celtic to victory.

Stokes' first-half goal in the 1-0 win over Aberdeen at Parkhead on Saturday was his fourth in three games to take his Hoops' tally to 12 since signing from Hibernian last summer.

He was set up in the 27th minute by Hooper, who returned from injury last week to score his 12th of the season in the 3-0 win at Easter Road, where the Dubliner grabbed a double.

Celtic increased their lead over Rangers at the top of the SPL to five points, although they have played two games more than their Old Firm rivals, who lost 1-0 at Hearts earlier in the day.

Parkhead boss Lennon, who has chopped and changed his attack all season, said: "The front two were a handful and they worked the goal very well. They are in the driving seat at the moment. I thought they dovetailed very well together. You can tell there is a bit of chemistry between them and they are doing what we brought them to do, they are scoring goals."


Stokes insists hard work on the training ground is beginning to pay off.

"The last few weeks we have been doing quite well together and we want to keep that up," said Stokes. "We work a lot in trying to get an understanding in training and I think we have been taking that on to the pitch, it's been great.

"As a striker you want to score as many goals as possible, but the main thing is that you are winning games."

Stokes and Hooper will pair up again, against Hearts at Parkhead on Wednesday night and Lennon reiterated his belief that the Jambos, who are now two points behind Rangers with a game in hand over Celtic, are genuine title contenders.

The former Hoops skipper said: "I have said this all along about Hearts.

"They have put a concerted, consistent run together and the result against Rangers adds to the theory that they are in the running. It's a big, big game for us. Things can turn again very, very quickly and so we are not taking anything for granted. But Saturday was a good day for us and it gives us a bit of a cushion."

Rather than worry about Hearts' title credentials, Stokes preferred to concentrate on Celtic's 11-game unbeaten run.

"We are just focusing on ourselves," he said. "They are on a great run at the minute and they look like a very organised, attacking team and it was another good result for them against Rangers.

"But we are on a good run ourselves, we are keeping clean sheets, we are scoring goals."

Aberdeen looked a far improved outfit from the team which lost 9-0 at Celtic Park in November under former boss Mark McGhee. Craig Brown's side will face Celtic again next week in the League Cup semi-final at Hampden with more confidence, but skipper Paul Hartley insists all their focus will be on the SPL game at Inverness in midweek.

The former Celtic midfielder said: "We don't want to talk about the semi-final until after Wednesday. The league is the most important for us and it will be another tough game against Inverness who are having a good season."

Irish Independent

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