Hooper hat-trick in Hoops stroll

It was the Hoops fifth straight win and they reiterated their title

intentions in impressive style, although Rangers have a game in

hand against Kilmarnock at Rugby Park on Sunday. The first half

belonged to the much-maligned Georgios Samaras as dreadful

defending by the visitors allowed him to open the scoring in the

fourth minute, with Hooper grabbing his first four minutes later

from close range. The former Scunthorpe striker scored twice more

early in the second half before substitute Dylan McGeouch scored

his first goal for the club in the 72nd minute with a wonderful

solo effort which began when he won the ball in his own half. The

home fans hailed a new hero at the end, but the win was inspired by

Samaras, who probably started the game only because Kris Commons

was injured. Defender Glenn Loovens replaced Ki Sung-yueng, who

dropped to the bench, while St Mirren boss Danny Lennon dropped

former Rangers striker Steven Thompson to the bench and brought in

defender Illias Haddad, with Gary Teale replacing injured

midfielder Steven Thomson. But it was to no avail. Just as they did

in their 2-1 home win over Dunfermline in midweek, Celtic started

the game strongly but Samaras only put them ahead after Saints

defender Marc McAusland made a mess of trying to clear a harmless

Joe Ledley pass. The ball fell kindly to the Greece striker, whose

low drive from the edge of the box was unconvincing, but goalkeeper

Craig Samson let the ball squirm out of his hands and trickle over

the line. Four minutes later Samaras was involved again when he set

up Anthony Stokes inside the box and his drive was tapped into an

empty net at the back post by Hooper as the visitors appealed

unsuccessfully for offside. In the 19th minute Samaras set up

Forrest with a cut-back after forcing his way into the box, but the

Scotland international’s left-footed effort was stopped by Samson.

After that Celtic’s early enthusiasm waned somewhat. Stokes had the

ball in the net with a drive but long after the offside flag was

raised. Thompson replaced Teale for the start of the second half

but just seconds after the restart Samson had to make a close-range

save from Hooper with the St Mirren defence in disarray. In the

48th minute a flowing Celtic move ended with skipper Beram Kayal

firing in a shot from Stokes’ cross which was too close to Samson.

Moments later Samaras displayed his confidence with a snap-shot

from 25 yards but Samson also saved with a degree of ease. However,

Saints’ resistance crumbled and in the 53rd minute Celtic appeared

to seal the points when Hooper grabbed his second. Victor Wanyama’s

pass sent Stokes racing down the left and despite the attentions of

McAusland, the Irishman cut the ball into the box for Hooper, who

easily turned Lee Mair before firing past Samson from close range.

Three minutes later the former Scunthorpe player earned himself the

match ball with another fine piece of finishing. After getting the

break of the ball when he tried a one-two with Forrest, he clipped

the ball over Samson from 10 yards for his third. In the 65th

minute Celtic boss Lennon replaced Forrest with former Rangers

youth player McGeouch and within minutes he grabbed a brilliant

first goal for Celtic after robbing St Mirren midfielder Kenny

McLean inside his own half. He skipped past Buddies midfielder Jim

Goodwin as he raced towards the St Mirren box, using Stokes as a

decoy before driving low past the hapless Samson to confirm the

convincing win. In the final seconds Kayal’s shot appeared to

strike Mair on the hand but referee Steven McLean ignored penalty

claims. Celtic fans will now turn their attention to Rugby Park

tomorrow to see if there is more encouragement in their rejuvenated

title bid.