By Martin Macdonald
|NO WINTER BLUES FOR THE HOOPS
Celtic returned from their winter break in style on Saturday as the Scottish Premier League champions comfortably defeated Hearts 4-1 at Celtic Park.
A double from Gary Hooper, and strikes from Georgios Samaras and Lassad ensured Neil Lennon’s men kicked off the second half of their campaign with a vital three points against their rivals from Edinburgh.
The home side could not have got off to a better start, and edged ahead with just 90 seconds on the clock. Adam Matthews galloped down the right-hand side and showed determination to burst into the area where he slid a pass along the six-yard-box for Hooper, who tapped home for a poacher’s goal.
10 minutes later Celtic doubled their lead, in what was almost a carbon copy of the opening goal. This time it was Kris Commons making a penetrating run down the right flank, and the Englishman squared the ball into the centre for Samaras, who had the easiest of tasks to tap home from a few yards out.
Commons had the opportunity to get himself on the scoresheet a few minutes before the break, but his curled shot from inside the box proved to be a bread and butter save for Hearts goalkeeper, Jamie Macdonald.
The first portion of the second half went through without much incident, but a tense finish was on the cards when Hearts equalised with 20 minutes remaining in fortuitous fashion. Jason Holt ran through the middle and struck a speculative shot at goal, and the attempt bounced off Charlie Mulgrew past goalkeeper Lukasz Zaluska.
However, Lennon’s men did not seem too fazed and eventually netted the vital third goal. Scott Brown bounced off challenges inside the area and played the ball into the path of Hooper, who ran onto the ball and clinically finished into the bottom left corner.
Further misery was heaped on John McGlynn’s side in stoppage time when Celtic substitute, Lassad, latched on to a cross from Emilio Izaguirre and guided a lovely left-footed strike into the top corner.
|LENNON DELIGHTED WITH FRESH LEGS
Celtic manager Neil Lennon was understandably delighted with the result and performance of his players in the aftermath of the comprehensive 4-1 win over Hearts on Saturday afternoon.
The Hoops boss has conceded that he was not sure how his players would react after their two-week winter break, but has hailed their attitude and fresh approach to the match against the capital club. Speaking after the match, he said:
"We were terrific. We got off to a great start, played a lot of good football, not just in the first half as I thought we played some great football in the second half as well. It was a great result.
"There was obviously a freshness there as they have had a break and it's obviously been beneficial to us. You don´t know what reaction you are going to get from it but obviously ours today was a positive one."
The Northern Irish manager also reserved praise for striker Gary Hooper, who bagged a brace in the match.
The Englishman has been linked with a move away from Parkhead in recent weeks with Norwich City reportedly having a bid rejected by Celtic last week, but Lennon has no worries about his player’s professionalism as the speculation mounts. He said:
"That´s Gary at his best. He got his two goals but his all-round game was top-class.
"We had a chat last night after speaking to his representatives and we wanted to make our position clear to him and he was quite comfortable with it all."
|TWO WINS IN A ROW AFTER BREAK
After successfully defeating Hearts at the weekend, the Hoops moved 12 points clear at the top of the Scottish Premier League on Tuesday evening after Neil Lennon’s men disposed of Dundee United with a comprehensive 4-0 win in Glasgow.
The Scottish Premier League champions had returned from their winter break on Saturday with a comfortable 4-1 win over Hearts, and continued their winning run in 2013 thanks to another brace from Gary Hooper, as well as strikes from Victor Wanyama and Scott Brown.
The opening quarter -hour was end-to-end stuff, with both sides guilty of squandering chances to go ahead. Gary Mackay-Steven and Johnny Russell both came close with strikes from range for United, and Hooper and Georgios Samaras had half-chances go begging for hosts.
However, Celtic eventually took the lead 19 minutes in with a lightning quick counterattack. Hooper flicked the ball into the path of Lassad who burst forward down the right-hand side and found the onrushing Samaras at the backpost. The Greek slid the ball into the path of the Englishman, who, after starting the move, coolly finished into the net.
The hosts probed for another goal, and netted again just after the hour mark. Mikael Lustig latched on to a short corner and chipped a perfect cross to the back port for Wanyama, who directed a header into the far corner,
Peter Houston’s men grew into the match after the break, but still could not find a way past the sturdy home defence. The Hoops put the match beyond their guests eight minutes from time when Samaras went on a signature run down the right-hand side before fizzing a cross to the front post. Hooper made no mistake and finished with a terrific flick of his heel past Radoslaw Cierzniak.
The icing on the cake came two minutes later, with the former Scunthorpe striker turning provider this time. He picked out Brown at the back post, and the club captain showed composure to expertly curl the ball into the far corner with a left-footed shot.
The victory leaves Neil Lennon’s men at the summit of the Scottish Premier League. Their next match comes this Sunday, when the Hoops and St Mirren will clash in the Scottish Communities League Cup semi-final at Hampden.
Follow Martin Macdonald on