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Football | Europe

Gary Hooper © Gallo Images

Celtic boss backs Hooper to fire again



Celtic manager Neil Lennon has tipped Gary Hooper to end his five-game goal drought when his side take on bottom of the table Dundee at Parkhead on Sunday.

The striker has failed to find the back of the net in February as he suffers a dramatic dip of form following some impressive displays in January that earned him the player of the month award.

Hooper has already notched up 23 strikes for the season – just six short of last year's personal best of 29 – but missed two gilt-edged chances in the 1-1 draw with St Johnstone on Tuesday leading to suggestions the forward may be distracted by off-field events.

The striker was the subject of several failed bids from English Premier League side Norwich in January but Lennon refuted claims that Hooper's mind may be elsewhere and backed him to get back on the scoring trail again.

"It's not like Gary to go so long without a goal, but it's not for the want of trying," the Celtic manager said.

"He has been playing very well, and I thought he was great at the weekend against Dundee United. I have no worries at all about Gary. I am expecting him to end up with 30 goals this season, anyway.

"It is just one of these things. He is only human. Normally, when he gets chances like against St Johnstone, you are expecting the ball to be rippling the net.

"But there have been other games, like the one against Kilmarnock at the end of last month when we won 4-1, and he could have had four himself.

"It is not that he is not getting into positions to score. It is just not going in for him at the minute. But it will."

Celtic, who are 19 points clear at the top of the Scottish Premier League, are on course to wrap up the league title in record time.

Their opponents on Sunday, who parted company with manager Barry Smith in midweek, are 15 points adrift at the bottom.

And Lennon, who will be missing captain Scott Brown through injury, admitted he may rest some players for the visit of managerless Dundee in anticipation of their clash with second-placed Motherwell next midweek.

"I think we will make changes this weekend for the game against Dundee to freshen things up again," the Celtic boss said.

"We have a big game at Motherwell and that will be in my thinking when I pick my team for Sunday.

"I don't want to overdo it in terms of changes. But there are players who are itching to play, and we will look at giving some of them the game time they need."

Elsewhere on Saturday, Aberdeen could leapfrog Kilmarnock into the top six with a win at Rugby Park while St Johnstone will look to build on the point picked up against Celtic when they host St Mirren.

Struggling Hearts will try and put their financial worries to one side as they host third-placed Inverness Caledonian Thistle at Tynecastle and Motherwell will aim to hold on to second spot when they take on Ross County at Victoria Park.

Also on Sunday, Dundee United will try to continue their push up the table under new manager Jackie McNamara when they host Hibernian at Tannadice.

Fixtures

Saturday

Hearts v Inverness CT
Kilmarnock v Aberdeen
Ross County v Motherwell
St Johnstone v St Mirren

Sunday

Celtic v Dundee
Dundee Utd v Hibernian

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