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Football | Europe

Celtic © Action Images

Late blitz carries Celtic five points clear



Celtic scored four second-half goals as they increased their lead at the top of the Scottish Premier League to five points with a 4-0 rout of Ross County on Saturday.

After a goalless opening 45 minutes Celtic captain Scott Brown fired his side into the lead within a minute of the interval.

Gary Hooper headed home his 50th goal for Celtic in the 53rd minute before grabbing a double as he nodded past Brown from close range 11 minutes later.

James Forrest, who replaced Beram Kayal in the 58th minute for his first appearance since October due to injury, wrapped up the scoring in the 70th minute with a fine individual goal.

However, things could have been different at Celtic Park if Ross County's Rocco Quinn and Alex Cooper had converted two good chances for the visitors just before the break.

The win, Celtic's fifth in a row, increases their lead at the top of the table to five over Inverness Caledonian Thistle who leapfrogged Motherwell following a 4-1 win over bottom of the table Dundee.

Celtic manager Neil Lennon was thrilled with the performance.

"I am delighted. Particularly in the second half we were excellent but I wasn't too unhappy with the first half," said Lennon.

"That's our fifth win in a row now so we're starting to pick up some pace."

At Celtic Park, the hosts had efforts from Lassad Nouioui, Charlie Mulgrew and Hooper saved as they had the most of the early possession.

Ross County then pushed more men forward in a bid to get a foothold in the game and Stuart Kettlewell fired a low shot wide before Iain Vigurs curled a free-kick high over the bar.

The visitors came close to opening the scoring in the 16th minute when Vigurs dinked the ball into the path of former Celtic player Quinn whose fierce strike from 25 yards out whistled just past Fraser Forster's post.

Celtic spurned a great chance to take the lead on the half hour mark when Izaguirre's cross made it to the unmarked Hooper at the back post but his shot was blocked by Marc Fitzpatrick.

There were two good chances in a minute with Kayal drilling a low shot at Brown before County responded with Cooper setting up Quinn whose tame effort rolled straight to Forster.

Cooper should have done better right on the stroke of halftime when he found himself in some space in the box but Forster spread himself well and blocked his low shot with his legs.

Celtic came out of the break fired up and took the lead within a minute of the restart.

Hooper played a clever through ball into the path of Brown and the captain rifled an angled shot past the keeper.

Ross County had little time to recover from this setback before Celtic added a second through Hooper in the 53rd minute when he got on the end of Lassad's cross to send a downward header squirming under the arms of Brown.

Hooper made it 3-0 in the 64th minute after Victor Wanyama managed to knock on Charlie Mulgrew's corner into his path and he headed it in from four yards out.

Forrest climbed off the bench to make his long awaited comeback from injury and he marked his return with his first goal of the season in the 70th minute as he collected a pass and cut into the box and arrowed a shot past Brown via a slight deflection.

Hooper came close to a hat-trick late on when he cannoned an effort off the bar after good work from Forrest.

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