Gary Hooper grabbed a fine double to inspire Scottish Premier League leaders Celtic to a stunning 3-0 win over bitter rivals Rangers here on Sunday to record their biggest victory over them since November 2005. The Englishman - bought from English Championship outfit Scunthorpe last summer - struck twice in the first-half while recent signing Kris Commons added a brilliant third in the second period.
Victory extended their lead over Rangers to eight points and with a much better goal difference, though Rangers the defending champions have two games in hand. "It was a wonderful performance and the team was the star today," said Celtic manager Neil Lennon. "They did everything we asked of them and I couldn't be happier at the minute."
His Rangers manager Walter Smith couldn't hide his disappointment. "We didn't play well at all in any aspect of the game really," said Smith, who steps down at the end of the season. "Our defending was poor, our possession was poor and all-in-all it was as poor as a performance we've had against Celtic since I got back to the club."
Hopper's great touch took him past David Weir to slot home the opener in the 17th minute and he slid in to convert Emilio Izaguirre's cross 11 minutes later as the Hoops dominated the first-half.
Rangers improved after the break with Nikica Jelavic and El-Hadji Diouf both unable to take their chances before Commons notched his second Old Firm goal in as many games with a superb swerving shot in the 70th minute as Celtic ran out deserved winners.
Georgios Samaras was restored to the starting line-up for Celtic for the first time in eight matches as leading scorer Anthony Stokes dropped to the bench. Rangers made three changes to the side which drew 1-1 with Sporting Lisbon on Thursday as Jelavic, Steven Naismith and defender Kyle Bartley returned.
Bartley, on-loan from Arsenal, was making his Old Firm debut and it took him just over two minutes to pick up a booking for a rash challenge on Scott Brown. Commons was making his home debut and he set up Hooper for the opener in the 17th minute. The Scotland international found Hooper just outside the box and the 23-year-old's excellent first touch took him away from David Weir before he slammed the ball low under the advancing Allan McGregor.
Hooper flying high
Rangers tried to respond through lone striker Jelavic but the Croatian volleyed over after a one-two with Maurice Edu. Hooper's pace was causing all sorts of problems for the Rangers defence and he soon had a second when he made it 2-0 in the 28th minute.
Samaras played Izaguirre down the left-wing and his low ball to the far post was met by Hooper who slid at full-stretch to hook the ball past McGregor. Commons was next to try his luck after Joe Ledley set him up but he dragged his low shot wide as Celtic dominated.
Naismith, who was struggling with a hamstring injury, was replaced by Kyle Lafferty at the break but it was the home side who were gifted the first chance of the half. McGregor misjudged the flight of Samaras' cross and his punched clearance landed on the head of Brown whose effort was cleared from under his own bar by Sasa Papac.
Fraser Forster was equal to El-Hadji Diouf's attempted chip before the Senegalese forward's cross was headed wide by Jelavic as Rangers exerted some pressure. David Healy replaced Diouf but it was strike partner Jelavic who was on the end of a Steven Davis corner but he headed tamely into the arms of Forster.
It was Rangers' best period of the match but just as it looked as if they might find a way back into the match Celtic scored a goal out of nothing in the 70th minute to make sure of the three points. Commons, who had netted on his Old Firm debut two weeks ago, collected a Hooper pass 20 yards out and took a touch before unleashing a suberb swerving shot that bamboozled McGregor and flew under the Scotland international.