Garry Parker says Celtic heroes deserve a rest

THE mid-season break has come at the right time for Celtic and their stuttering strikers.

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Garry Parker happy with the Hoops
Garry Parker happy with the Hoops

In the games against Hibs and Motherwell before the shutdown for 17 days, the Hoops managed to find the net just once.

But that skews the real picture of success in front of goal for Neil Lennon's side in what has been a very successful first half of the campaign.

In the 35 matches played across four different competitions – including 10 ties in the Champions League and its qualifying rounds – Celtic have found the target a remarkable 67 times.

That's a fraction under two goals per game, and up on their average at this stage last term, 57 in 32 matches.

The strike rate is less than Lennon's first season in charge, when they had banged home 54 goals at this point, but they had exited Europe early that year, and had played only 25 games by now.

No shock that the man leading the way once again is Gary Hooper, the top scorer for the previous two seasons.

Surprisingly, he is only joint-seventh in the race to become the SPL's hot-shot, five goals behind leaders Leigh Griffiths, Billy McKay and former team-mate Niall McGinn.

But Hooper has been spreading his goals across Europe, not just on Scottish soil, and his four in the Champions League have been worth their weight in gold, helping boost his total for the campaign so far to 18 from 29 games.

That has put him well on course for his best-ever season in the Hoops. It's more than he has achieved at this point in either of his two previous campaigns at the club – 11 in 13 appearances in injury- hampered 2010-11 and 15 in 28 games in 2011/12.

It is little wonder, then, that Hooper has fired himself into contention for a place in the England squad, and continues to draw attention from managers south of the border who are desperate to try and lure him away from Parkhead.

Celtic appreciate his value better than anyone, and first-team coach Garry Parker – a man who knew how to find the net during his playing days – acknowledged what an in-form Hooper brings to the Celtic side.

However, he reckons there could be even more to come from the Englishman once the batteries are recharged and admitted: "I would like him to have more league goals. But he is a quality player, and a goalscorer. So we just need him on the pitch."

Despite Hooper's relative lack of success in SPL games, Celtic go into the break not only nine points ahead of the pack, but also with a significantly better goal difference than the rest.

Nevertheless, Inverness are the surprise top scorers overall with 44 – four more than Celtic – and it is the champions' far superior goals against record which gives them the edge on Terry Butcher's side.

Parker believes Lennon's men have to step up the conversion rate in league games and revealed that is something they will aim to do when they return after the break.

"Teams are coming to Celtic Park, getting behind the ball, and it is hard for us to break them down," said Parker.

"It's up to us to find a way, and we finally did it at the end of the game against Motherwell on Wednesday.

"But we have to work on that over the next couple of weeks so that we are ready for the challenge in the second part of the season."

The plan is to restore the edge at the training camp in Marbella, which will begin on Wednesday.

Like manager Lennon and assistant Johan Mjallby, Parker appreciates how tough a shift all the players have put in already this season.

And through a nine-game December schedule – which included the final Group Stage game in the Champions League – he could see how desperate they all were to reach this recharging point.

Parker said: "They have definitely been aiming at this break. They have had a week to go away anywhere they choose with their family, then we head for the training camp.

"They have played 35 games already, which is a lot of football. You could see at the end of that they were out on their feet.

"Hopefully we also have some of the injured players coming back when we return."

Top of the list of those in need of a break are players like Georgios Samaras and Mikael Lustig, who competed in last summer's Euro Championships.

Emilio Izaguirre and Victor Wanyama also found themselves playing deep into June for their respective countries, which left little time for a close-season.

Parker said: "The rest is much-needed. They can get their feet up for a week, then, even when we go to the training camp, it is not going to be hard, just a case of keeping them ticking over.

"We have a game (against Steaua Bucharest a week on Tuesday), and we will just get ready to go again. It will be a mini pre-season break."

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