Two Gary Hooper goals give Celtic a 4-0 SPL home win over Ross County
Last Updated: 23/12/12 8:17am
Hooper heads his second of the game at Celtic Park
A Gary Hooper double after the break helped Celtic romp to a 4-0 victory over Ross County in Saturday's SPL clash.
The home side dominated the first half with Staggies goalkeeper Mark Brown forced into several saves, although former Bhoy Rocco Quinn and Alex Cooper both missed great opportunities for the visitors at Celtic Park.
However, when Celtic skipper Brown struck a minute after the interval the Highlanders' resistance was broken, and Hooper 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.
The win moves Celtic five points ahead of their nearest challengers - now Inverness - at the top of the table.
The Hoops took only three minutes to create their first opening. Emilio Izaguirre raced down the left and his cross found Lassad Nouioui at the back post, but his header was held by Caley's former Celtic keeper Brown, who made a decent save from Charlie Mulgrew's shot on the turn from a Georgios Samaras free-kick moments later.
The visitors lacked conviction when they did venture up the park, although five minutes later former Parkhead midfielder Quinn blazed a drive from 25 yards just over the bar, after being played in by Iain Vigurs.
As Celtic continued to press, midfielder Beram Kayal had a low drive from the edge of the box saved by Brown before the Highlanders broke with some purpose seconds later with Cooper setting up Quinn, but his hastily-taken shot was too tame to unduly bother Hoops keeper Fraser Forster.
Seconds from the break, with the Hoops defence static, Quinn set up Cooper, but England call-up Forster came to Celtic's rescue with a fine blocking save for a corner which prevented the visitors taking an unlikely lead into the interval.
Any chance of a County upset, however, dissipated just over a minute into the second-half when Hooper set up Brown to drive low past his namesake in the County goal 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 Kayal, but it was Hooper who had the fans off their seats again in the 64th minute when he was in the right place to head past Brown after Victor Wanyama's header from a Mulgrew corner was blocked up into the air.
It became a matter of how many Celtic would score and six minutes later Forrest sped into the County box after after taking a pass from Hooper and shot past the helpless Brown.
Lennon was afforded the luxury of giving 18-year-old attacking midfielder John Herron his debut as replacement for Samaras, before Hooper hit the bar from close-range when it looked odds-on he would secure his hat-trick.