Celtic's Gary Hooper has fourth dimension in League Cup

GARY HOOPER fired Celtic into the quarter-finals of the Scottish Communities League Cup.

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Gary Hooper hit all four goals in Celtic's 4-1 win over Raith Rovers
Gary Hooper hit all four goals in Celtic's 4-1 win over Raith Rovers

But even his four-goal haul did not satisfy the hot-to-trot hitman.

Manager Neil Lennon, with one eye on the crunch SPL game at Motherwell on Saturday and Tuesday's Champions League tie in Moscow, asked the striker if he wanted to come off as the Hoops cruised towards a 4-1 rout of Raith Rovers.

Despite the fact the Englishman had hammered in all of Celtic's goals, and would have been assured of a standing ovation for his efforts, the answer was as emphatic as his finishing.

"I wanted to take Gary off, but he didn't want to. He told me, 'No, I'm all right,'" said the delighted manager who plucked him from Scunthorpe two years ago for just £2.4million and has since watched him repay the outlay with 58 goals.

Lennon continued: "It was always in the back of my mind that I didn't want to lose him for Saturday or next midweek

"Once he got his fourth goal, in the back of my mind I was thinking, let him go for five or six, if he can do it, because that would be quite a record to have.

"It is still a great achievement for him to get four in one game to add to the five he scored against Hearts at the end of last season."

The other star of the night was Efe Ambrose, who made his starting debut in midfield, and confirmed to Lennon that the Nigerian was everything he believed he was when he began the long process of signing him from Israeli club FC Ashdod.

Lennon purred: "We saw a lot of footage of him and we knew whichever position he was in, we were impressed by him.

"We thought last night was a good chance to make his starting debut.

"We have been a little short in that department, and Efe made a very good impression on everyone with the way he performed."

But while in the centre of the park they had Ambrose, up front they had ambrosia in the form and finishing of Hooper.

Lennon considers him a real team player and said: "Gary has been playing a different role at times.

"In the European games away, he has played up front on his own, and that was a bit strange for him because he is used to playing with a partner.

"He gets his quota of goals wherever he has to play. But I don't take that for granted because I know it is such a hard thing to do.

"He has adapted his game brilliantly for us, and I have been delighted with him this year."

Lennon smiled as he recalled how one reporter had suggested in the pre-match press conference that Hooper was struggling to fire on all cylinders.

"That really irked me," he said. "So it was nice for Gary to give that emphatic answer. I liked the look of Gary the first time I saw him.

"He is an intelligent footballer who takes up very good positions."

He went on: "Technically, he is very good. He can turn and get away from people over five or 10 yards, as he showed last night. Gary can also bring others into the game and we saw all that.

"He started the game very well and never looked back."

Lennon had predicted someone was going to cop a thumping from his side.

What he did not foresee was that all four goals would come from one man, hotshot Hooper, who made it 12 goals in his last eight appearances at Celtic Park.

The Hoops boss decided it was worth the taking the 'risk' of leaving out a few of the men who have done most to carry the side so far this term, including Fraser Forster, Kris Commons and Victor Wanyama, who were all held in reserve on the bench in case things went pear-shaped.

With Scott Brown enjoying a night with his feet up, along with Emilio Izaguirre, the gauntlet was thrown down for a clutch of fringe men to show their worth, and for Ambrose to make his first start.

With Beram Kayal back for his first game since limping off injured in Helsingborgs last month, it as a very different line-up from the one which faced Dundee at the weekend, and a very different atmosphere as only 14,737 braved filthy conditions.

They soon had something to warm them up, however, as Hooper opened the scoring after just 12 minutes.

Perhaps this, allied with the territorial advantage enjoyed, instilled a false feeling of security, and a reality check arrived when Allan Walker equalised with a shot which spun up off Kelvin Wilson to beat Zaluska.

Lennon could be seen calling on his players to regain their composure, but it was more important they regained the lead.

Hooper was the man to oblige – in triplicate.

He got his second just before the break, and followed up with a second-half double to renew calls from his manager for Roy Hodgson to consider him for England duty.

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