Celtic keep title hopes alive
A Gary Hooper double helped keep Celtic's Scottish Premier League title hopes alive as they ran out 3-0 winners over Hearts at Tynecastle in a match where both sides ended with ten men. The result leaves Celtic a point adrift of bitter rivals Rangers in top spot to ensure the race for the championship will go to a final day showdown.
A Marius Zaliukas error allowed Hooper to open the scoring in the 12th minute before David Obua saw red on the half-hour mark for raising his hands to Celtic's Charlie Mulgrew. Hooper slotted home his second three minutes after the break and Kris Commons netted the third in the 78th minute but received his second yellow card immediately afterwards as he run into the crowd to celebrate.
Hearts made four changes to the team whose performance against Rangers in their 4-0 defeat at the weekend drew questions from Hoops boss Lennon. Zaliukas was restored in defence following owner Vladimir Romanov's bizarre order to make him unavailable for selection against Rangers for fear he would be sent off by referee Iain Brines.
However the home fans were wishing he had been left in the stands again in the 12th minute when his mistake led to Celtic's opener. The Lithuanian tried to run the ball out from defence but was robbed of possession by Commons and he showed great awareness to pick out Hooper who slotted low past Marian Kello.
Hearts were appealing for a penalty when Ryan Stevenson's shot hit the arm of Emilio Izaguirre, but referee Craig Thomson adjudged it wasn't deliberate.
The Jambos were reduced to ten men in the 32nd minute in controversial circumstances. Obua went to push Charlie Mulgrew on the shoulder after the defender had blocked him but missed and his hand brushed the top of the Celtic man's head. However after consultation with assistant Keith Sorbie referee Thomson gave the Ugandan a straight red.
The Hoops made their extra man advantage count three minutes after the break when Hooper got his 21st of the season. Korean international Ki Sung-Yeung burst towards the Hearts box before slipping in Hooper who took a touch before finishing low into the bottom corner.
Commons wasn't far away from adding a third with a fierce strike from 25 yards before a rare Hearts attack saw Stephen Elliot hook a Rudi Skacel pass just past Fraser Forster's post.
Hooper was denied a hat-trick by the feet of Kello before he set up Commons to make it 3-0 in the 78th minute. The winger collected Hooper's pass before beating Zaliukas and sending a low drive that beat Kello at his near post.
Commons, who had received a yellow card for diving two minutes earlier, went to celebrate with the Celtic support only to receive his second booking from referee Thomson.