Celtic cut the gap at the Scottish Premier League to four points as a Gary Hooper hat-trick helped them to a 5-0 rout of St Mirren today. Georgios Samaras made the most of a rare start to open the scoring in the fourth minute before Hooper tapped in the second four minutes later.
The English striker lashed home the third in the 53rd minute before he completed his treble just four minutes later when he dinked the ball over Craig Samson. Youngster Dylan McGeouch made only his second appearance for the Hoops as a 65th minute substitute and it took him just seven minutes to get on the score sheet with a superb solo strike after going on an 80-yard lung-busting run.
The result puts the pressure on league leaders Rangers, who face Kilmarnock at Rugby Park tomorrow. Neil Lennon said he couldn't have asked any more of his players. "We've had a clean sheet, ate into the goal difference and won the game. Hooper was sensational as was Samaras," the Celtic manager said. "On the back of a very good performance on Wednesday they've continued in the same vein today. I think the difference was our finishing was a lot better."
His St Mirren counterpart and namesake congratulated Celtic on their performance. "To hurt you they have to have possession and we gave them a helping hand in the first two goals," Danny Lennon said. "We will pick ourselves up and although we are very disappointed myself and my players will learn great things from this defeat."
St Mirren had looked comfortable in possession as they confidently stroked the ball about the pitch in the opening exchanges but their good work came undone as early as the fourth minute when Samaras gave Celtic the lead.
The much-maligned striker capitalised on Marc McAusland's failed clearance to race in on goal and fired a low shot at keeper Craig Samson, who allowed the ball to squirm under him and cross the line. St Mirren looked shell-shocked and Samaras had a hand in Celtic's second goal four minutes later as he played the ball out to Anthony Stokes whose cross was turned in by Hooper from a couple of yards.
Samaras was involved in everything and after robbing David van Zanten of possession on the left wing he pulled the ball back from the by-line for James Forrest but Samson somehow kept his shot out with his feet. Celtic had the ball in the net again on the half hour mark when Beram Kayal played in Stokes whose first-time shot flew past Samson but his effort was immediately ruled out for off-side.
Celtic full of Hoop
Within 15 seconds of the restart Stokes had set up Hooper for a shot that was turned out for a corner by Samson before the keeper stopped Kayal's shot on the line with his knees. A third goal was coming and it arrived in the 53rd minute through Hooper. Stokes found his strike partner with a cut-back and the Englishman took a touch before turning his marker and lashing an angled shot high over the keeper.
Hooper completed his hat-trick four minutes later when he ran at the St Mirren defence before finding Forrest who touched the ball back into the striker's path for him to dink the ball over Samson from six yards out. In a rare St Mirren attack Gary Teale fired just wide of Fraser Forster's post from Jason Tesselaar's cross before substitute McGeouch scored a 72nd minute wonder goal. The 18-year-old won the ball on the edge of his own box before waltzing past four St Mirren challenges and rifling a left-foot shot low past Samson.
Elsewhere, Hibernian's new manager Pat Fenlon watched from the stand as his side lost 3-1 to St Johnstone, Aberdeen came from behind to secure a 3-3 draw with Dunfermline, Inverness remain bottom after losing 2-1 to Hearts and Motherwell stay third following a goalless draw with Dundee United.