TWO goals from Gary Hooper helped Celtic to a convincing home Clydesdale Bank Premier League win over Dundee United and undoubtedly stiffened manager Neil Lennon’s resolve to get the best price possible for the striker if he is to leave Parkhead this month.
Before kick-off Lennon confirmed that his striker had turned down a contract offer while also revealing that the club had turned down another offer from Norwich after rejecting a bid, reported to be about £5million, for the 24-year-old last week.
Hooper, who has 18 months left on his current deal, showed why he is attracting increasing interest when he converted a Georgios Samaras pass in the 19th minute before midfielder Victor Wanyama headed in number two before the break.
Former Scunthorpe striker Hooper struck again 10 minutes from time to take his tally to 22 before he set up substitute Scott Brown for the fourth as United, whose boss Peter Houston will leave at the end of the season, were left thankful that their defeat had not been more demoralising.
It was Celtic who were first to benefit when Lassad raced away on a counter-attack with the United rearguard chasing, and when he moved the ball wide to Samaras his first-time pass to the unmarked Hooper saw him confidently beating United keeper Radoslaw Cierzniak.
Celtic doubled their lead when Mikael Lustig swung a cross to the back post the unmarked Wanyama powered a header back across goal and into the net.
However, 10 minutes from time Celtic broke with pace again and Samaras set up Hooper to score with a neat flick at the near post.
Anthony Stokes replaced Lassad to make his first appearance since last August after recovering from an ankle injury, but it was Brown, on for Kayal, who curled in goal number four after taking a Hooper pass, to leave the champions 12 points clear of Inverness at the top of the table.
However, the focus over the next few days at least, will remain on Hooper.