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Hooper scores late winner for Celtic
Gary Hooper scored a late winner after Fraser Forster saved a penalty as Celtic claimed a hard-fought 1-0 win over Motherwell to head into the Scottish Premier League's winter break with a nine point lead at the top of the table.
Celtic had a second minute header from Georgios Samaras ruled out for offside and Darren Randolph superbly saved a Charlie Mulgrew free-kick as the home side laid siege to the Motherwell goal early on.
However, Well weathered the storm and Jamie Murphy, in his last game for the Fir Park side before his transfer to Sheffield United, twice missed chances to give his side the lead before the break.
The stage looked set for a dream end to Murphy's Motherwell career when he earned them a 76th minute penalty after being tripped by Kelvin Wilson in the box but Forster was the hero when he made a tremendous save to turn Tom Hately's spot-kick round the post.
Celtic took heart from the penalty save and Hooper handed them the three points in the 80th minute when he finished a move he had started by turning a low Samaras cross past Randolph.
At Parkhead, Celtic had made three changes from the side that lost to Hibernian on Saturday with Kris Commons and Mulgrew returning from injury while Beram Kayal was handed a starting role as captain Scott Brown missed out completely.
The Hoops started brightly and thought they had taken a second minute lead when Samaras glanced a header past Randolph from a Commons cross but his effort was ruled out for offside.
A Samaras cross was then directed towards goal by Hooper but Randolph kept it out. The rebound fell to Commons but Simon Ramsden was out quickly to block his fierce strike.
With only eight minutes on the clock Randolph was again called into action as he superbly tipped a curling Mulgrew free-kick from 20 yards out over the bar after it looked destined for the top left-hand corner.
Murphy captained Motherwell in his last appearance and he was handed the chance to mark it with a goal when Keith Lasley set him up but the forward blazed his shot over the bar from the edge of the box.
Murphy appeared determined to leave Motherwell on a high and after selling his marker a dummy he darted into the box and curled an effort just wide of Forster's far post.
A minute later at the other end Ramsden had to hook a Samaras header off the line and there was still time for Efe Ambrose to knock an effort over the bar from four yards out as never side could make the breakthrough before the interval.
The Hoops continued to press for an opener and after Kayal sent a low drive just wide Randolph then had his palms stung by a fierce strike from Commons.
Murphy earned his side a 76th minute penalty but after being booked for coming off his line Forster threw himself down low to his right to turn Hately's penalty round the post.
Celtic were fired up by the save and just four minutes later took the lead in a quick breakaway move. Hooper fed Samaras down the left wing and then made a lung-bursting run to get on the end of his cross into the box and finish low past Randolph.
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