Celtic 4 Raith Rovers 1: No fairytale for Fife side as four-goal Hooper runs riot
22:04 GMT, 25 September 2012
Like all the best strikers around, Gary Hooper has a gluttonous appetite. The Englishman rarely knows when he is done.
On the final day of the SPL season in May he helped himself to a first-half hat-trick against Hearts, then added two more to finish on five.
On Tuesday night, against First Division opponents, he satisfied himself with a mere four. At the end of it all, Celtic’s place in the last eight of the Scottish Communities League Cup was almost an afterthought.
Main man: Gary Hooper scored all four goals for Celtic against Raith Rovers
Celtic: Zaluska, Matthews, Rogne, Wilson, Mulgrew, McGeouch, Ambrose, Kayal (Ledley 61), Forrest (Commons 82), Watt (McCourt 71), Hooper.
Subs Not Used: Forster, Wanyama
Goals: Hooper 12, 37, 58, 60.
Raith: McGurn, Thomson, Mensing, Hill, Malone (Ellis 89), Grant Anderson (Smith 68), Stuart Anderson, Walker, Hamill, Spence (Callachan 68), Graham.
Subs Not Used: Laidlaw, Donaldson.
Booked: Grant Anderson
Goal: Walker 28.
Ref: Alan Muir
On these occasions, a puzzled press box invariably rakes back years into the record books to recall the last time a Celtic striker achieved such a feat. Rarely, if ever, is the answer as recent as four months.
If nothing else, Hooper’s knack of prompting historical trawls cut short another walk down memory lane.
It was 18 years ago that Raith Rovers overcame Celtic to win the Scottish League Cup. The events of November 27 1994, when Paul McStay missed the penalty of his life, began the greying process for the late Tommy Burns.
On waking on Wednesday morning, Neil Lennon’s hair will be as red as ever. The prodigious Hooper made sure of that.
To say this was a night without mishap or anxiety would be to do Grant Murray’s Raith a disservice.
For Celtic it turned out fine in the end, yet Raith played the role of archetypal plucky underdogs with some distinction.
Star of the show: Hooper made sure Celtic were not embarrassed in the League Cup
LEAGUE CUP RESULTS
Hearts 3 Livingtson 1
Queen of the South 0 Dundee United 1
St. Johnstone 4 Queen's Park 1
St. Mirren 1 Hamilton 0
Stenhousemuir 1 Inverness CT 1 AET (Inverness win 6-5 on penalties)
They were better than the final scoreline suggests, offering more in attack in 45 minutes than most SPL clubs will in 90.
Pursuing the only domestic trophy to have eluded him in his Celtic tenure, however, Lennon took no chances.
The Northern Irishman was almost forced to field Hooper by dint of injuries to new Bhoys Lassad, Miku and the more familiar figure of Georgios Samaras,
Still, however, he began the match with a grand total of seven full internationalists, handing new signing Efe Ambrose his first start.
When Hooper slotted the first goal in 13 minutes, the lingering anxieties of a sparsely populated Celtic Park abated rapidly. With James Forrest on the left and Dylan McGeouch on the right, the home team offered considerable menace on the flanks. And used it to full effect.
When right back Jason Thomson catastrophically gave away possession to Forrest on the halfway line, the winger raced forward and fed McGeouch on the right. Darting past Eddie Malone, the youngster hammered a low centre into the danger zone, where an unmarked Hooper slotted the ball with nonchalance into the net.
Equaliser: Raith Rovers' Allan Walker (right) sees his shot loop up and over Lukasz Zaluska to level the score.
The top tier of this vast arena completely empty, a crowd in the region of 15,000 said much for the dwindling interest levels in this old tournament. And also for the limited resources of a support also asked to dig deep for Champions League tickets.
When the radio airwaves began to crackle with news of a Raith Rovers equaliser, however, ears pricked up rapidly all over the country.
Darting onto a Brian Graham pass in 27 minutes Allan Walker’s heavily deflected shot spun up off the leg of the lunging Kelvin Wilson and reared over the head of Celtic keeper Lukasz Zaluska.
And just for a few minutes we were there again. Back at Ibrox in 94, Gordon Dalziel lunging downwards to head past Gordon Marshall. Paul McStay with his head in his hands.
Overlooked in the sepia-tinged memories of that final, for the 1,000 or so Raith fans before kick-off, were some inconvenient truths.
In the 18 years since winning this trophy they had witnessed some pretty barren days against Celtic.
Eleven times the clubs had met, the team in green and white winning nine of them and the other two meetings drawn. In 2000, indeed, they had met in this competition — the current SPL champions winning 4-0.
Short lived: Walker celebrates his equaliser but Raith were soon behind again
The odds on Celtic prevailing in the end, then, were always short. And so it proved when Hooper scored a superb second goal eight minutes before half-time.
Again Forrest had the run on Thomson, the winger simply knocking the ball past the former Hearts player and running at some speed towards the byeline. It barely required a lift of the head to know that Hooper would be there, sniffing like a ferret up a drainpipe.
When the ball was delivered at some pace, the English striker volleyed it into the net with the minimum of fuss from eight yards out. On the back of his first league goal of the season against Dundee, he looks to be hitting top form.
That Raith were never out of it was a testimony to their passing composure and attacking flair. They missed a truly excellent chance to equalise again early in the second half when unmarked striker Brian Graham failed to head a pinpoint diagonal cross from Walker on target. It was a damaging moment for the Fifers.
The temptation on these occasions is to blame Celtic lethargy and indifference for ropey nights. On this occasion, however, it wouldn’t be true.
Immediately after the opening goal, McGeouch produced a terrific save from Davie McGurn in the Raith goal, the 19-year-old’s deft one-two with Hooper ending with a low shot which the keeper did well to halt low to his right.
Unstoppable: Hooper completes his hat-trick against Raith Rovers at Celtic Park
Thomas Rogne then scorned another terrific chance minutes later, somehow hitting the post from 10 yards right in front of goal after McGurn had foiled McGeouch and Ambrose had failed to apply a finish.
Thankfully for Celtic, Hooper well and truly had his eye in.
The hat-trick came in 58 minutes when he sealed a fine piece of team play by Forrest and Adam Matthews by slotting an angled finish low into the net for 3-1.
His fourth was by far the simplest of the lot, a simple toe prod from six yards after Beram Kayal — with the last contribution of his comeback from an ankle injury — had a low shot spilled by a helpless McGurn. Hooper won’t score an easier goal this season.
On 75 minutes, the striker became provider as Celtic turned on the style. A delicate lay-off on the edge of the box allowed Forrest to smash a right-foot shot which cannoned off the inside of McGurn’s left hand post to safety.
Few begrudged Raith their moment of good fortune. The applause of their appreciative fan base at time up was deserved.
Better teams will fall victim to Gary Hooper this season.