Hooper double crowns Celtic's second-half romp

Celtic 4 Ross County 0

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The Independent Football

Drawn against Juventus in the Champions League one moment, up against Ross County the next. Celtic, however, did not allow themselves to be distracted from Premier League business yesterday as they romped to a comfortable win underpinned by two goals from Gary Hooper.

The Scottish champions did, though, take their time to get going, dominating the first period but kept at bay by Staggies' former Celtic goalkeeper, Mark Brown, who made several fine saves. Also, the former Celtic player Rocco Quinn and Alex Cooper both missed excellent early opportunities for the visitors.

However, when the Celtic skipper, Scott Brown, struck a minute after the interval the Highlanders' resistance was broken. Hooper quickly helped himself to two classic poacher's goals before substitute James Forrest capped his return to action after being out since October with a hamstring injury by grabbing the fourth.

County approached this fixture having taken a point off the champions early in the season in Dingwall, but were without a win in eight games. And things looked ominous for them after only three minutes, the time it took for the the Hoops to create their first opening. Lassad Nouioui's header at the back post was held by Brown, who also saved smartly moments later from Charlie Mulgrew's shot on the turn after a Georgios Samaras free-kick.

It looked as though Brown was in for a long afternoon and in the 11th minute he made another good save from Hooper's close-range header after an Emilio Izaguirre cross from the left found the striker unmarked in the box. However, seconds from the break County had a chance when, with the Hoops defence static, Quinn set up Cooper, but Fraser Forster came to the rescue with a fine blocking save.

Any chance of a County upset disappeared just over a minute into the second half when Hooper set up Brown to fire in low from 14 yards. With the pressure off, Celtic relaxed and when Hooper flicked Lassad's cross past Brown with his head in the 53rd minute the points were effectively secured.

Forrest was given a rousing cheer when he replaced Beram Kayal, but it was Hooper who had the fans off their seats again in the 64th minute when he nodded in after Victor Wanyama's header from a Mulgrew corner had spun into the air.

Six minutes later Forrest sped into the County box after taking a pass from Hooper and shot past the helpless Brown.

Manager Neil Lennon will be thankful his side found their ruthlessness in the second period as victory moved Celtic five points ahead of Inverness at the top of the table.

Celtic (4-3-3): Forster; Izaguirre, Ambrose, Wilson, Mulgrew; Kayal (Forrest, 58), Brown, Nouioui (Watt, 75); Hooper, Samaras (Herron, 83), Wanyama.

Ross County (4-5-1): Brown; Fitzpatrick, Munro, Boyd, Kovacevic; Kettlewell (Glen, 88), Brittain, Vigurs, Quinn (Lawson, 77), Cooper (Corcoran, 54); McMenamin.

Referee Euan Norris.

Man of the match Hooper (Celtic).

Match rating 6/10.