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Football | Europe

Gary Hooper © Action Images

Hooper's double keeps Hoops clear at top



In-demand striker Gary Hooper showed his worth to Celtic on Saturday as he grabbed a double in their 4-1 win over Hearts that keeps the Hoops nine points clear at the top of the Scottish Premier League.

Celtic looked re-energised after the two-week winter break and it took just 90 seconds for Hooper, who was the subject of a rejected £5 million bid from Premiership side Norwich City in midweek, to open the scoring when he prodded home Adam Matthews' cross.

The Hoops quickly doubled their advantage in the 12th minute when Samaras was on hand to tap home after Jamie MacDonald had saved Kris Commons' initial shot.

Hooper then thought he had grabbed a double when he converted a Commons cross in the 51st minute only to see the flag up for offside.

However, despite dominating proceedings, the home side failed to kill off Hearts' hopes and they found a way back into the match through a deflected Jason Holt strike in the 69th minute to set up a nervy finish.

With time running out Hooper fired a fierce strike past MacDonald in the 85th minute before substitute Lassad Nouioui wrapped up the scoring in stoppage time to keep them nine clear of Inverness Caledonian Thistle, who claimed a 3-0 win over Aberdeen.

At Celtic Park, Lukasz Zaluska was handed a rare start in place of injured keeper Fraser Forster while Commons and Joe Ledley returned from injury.

Hearts were without suspended captain Marius Zaliuskas and Ryan Stevenson but handed a debut to on-loan Liverpool defender Danny Wilson.

However, the former Rangers player had a horror start to his Hearts career when his side found themselves 1-0 down after just 90 seconds. Matthews got the break of the ball off a Hearts player and broke into the box before squaring the ball to Hooper who prodded it home from six yards out.

The Hoops didn't have to wait long to double their advantage with Samaras making it 2-0 in the 12th minute. Commons turned Kevin McHattie on the right wing before racing in the box and firing in a shot that keeper MacDonald could only push into the path of the Greek striker who rolled the ball into the net from eight yards.

Zaluska was having a quiet day deputising for Forster but had to be alert to stop substitute Jamie Walker's low drive after he had raced into the Celtic box just after the interval.

Celtic had the ball in the net again in the 51st minute when Hooper converted a Commons cross but his celebrations were cut short by the assistant referee's flag.

The Jambos showed more fight in the second half and Walker cleared the crossbar with a shot from just inside the box before Holt handed Hearts hope when he pulled one back in the 69th minute with a shot that took a wicked deflection to wrong foot Zaluska on its way into the bottom left-hand corner.

After some nervy moments Celtic made sure of the points when Hooper made it 3-1 in the 85th minute. Brown burst into the box and rolled the ball to the English striker whose low angled strike flew past MacDonald for his 20th of the season.

There was still time for substitute Lassad to make it 4-1 when he met Emilio Izaguirre's cross at the far post to fire high into the net from close range.

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