Hooper helps Celtic beat Motherwell
Gary Hooper's late goal fired Celtic into second place in the Scottish Premier League as the Hoops snatched a 2-1 win over Motherwell at Fir Park.
Neil Lennon's side have struggled to stay in touch with leaders Rangers and they looked set to squander more points heading into the last ten minutes, but Hooper popped up with a clinical winner that lifted Celtic above their opponents in the table.
Motherwell, who had defender Tim Clancey sent off in the final moments, had taken the lead through Michael Higdon's early opener. But Anthony Stokes levelled soon after and Celtic finally found enough momentum to secure a win that left them 12 points behind Rangers, with one game in hand on their Glasgow rivals.
After a tough win over Rennes in the UEFA Europa League on Thursday, Lennon was delighted to see his players still going strong in the closing stages. "On the back of what was a really physical game on Thursday to come here and win, it speaks volumes for the players," Lennon said. "We know they've got what it takes. They've got talent in abundance."
Lennon had made two changes to his team, with Thomas Rogne replacing the injured Glenn Loovens in the heart of the defence, while Kris Commons came in for Paddy McCourt in midfield. Those changes seemed to unsettle Lennon's side as the visitors made a nervous start.
Celtic had lost 2-0 the last time they had visited Fir Park in February and they were under pressure from a series of Tom Hateley early corners as Stuart McCall's men pressed for the opener.
The set-piece barrage paid off for Motherwell in the 11th minute from a short corner taken by Nicky Law. He passed to Hateley, who crossed into the box for Higdon, cleverly beating the offside trap, to glance a header past Fraser Forster from close range.
Celtic begin comeback
Motherwell's lead lasted only three minutes as Celtic equalised from a corner of their own. Commons' delivery was flicked on by Greek striker Georgios Samaras and Stokes was lurking at the far post to volley past goalkeeper Darren Randolph. Samaras had a sight of goal when Commons' free-kick was deflected into his path, but his shot was deflected wide for a corner.
Celtic threatened early in the second half when Daniel Majstorovic's long punt sent Stokes racing into the penalty area, but the former Hibernian striker was off balance as his shot was blocked by Randolph. At the other end Forster had to rush from his line to block Law, who had moved onto a clever lobbed pass from Keith Lasley at the edge of the box.
Lennon sent on McCourt for Samaras as Celtic pushed forward in search of the vital winner. The Hoops manager has come under fire in recent weeks after a serious of poor results, but his change here proved an inspired move.
In the 80th minute, McCourt's moment of magic stole the points. The winger caused chaos as he dribbled to the edge of the Motherwell area and played in Stokes, who drove the ball across goal for Hooper to knock in from almost on the line. Clancy was sent off after appearing to kick out at Hooper two minutes later and with it went any real chance of a Motherwell comeback.