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Lennon lauds 'priceless' five-goal Hooper

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14 May 2012 05:16:51

Lennon lauds 'priceless' five-goal Hooper

Celtic manager Neil Lennon said Gary Hooper was "priceless" after he scored all the goals in the Hoops' emphatic final day 5-0 win over Hearts.

The striker became the first Celtic player to net five times in a Scottish Premier League game to claim the golden boot with 24 league goals for the season.

It rounded off a perfect day for the club, as they were presented with the SPL trophy following the game after finishing 20 points clear of Old Firm rivals Rangers.

The Gers won 4-0 away to St Johnstone just hours after a consortium fronted by former Sheffield United chief executive Charles Green were announced as the new owners of the Ibrox club.

Hooper has been a revelation at Parkhead since he was signed from Scunthorpe United for £2.3 million ($3.7m) in the summer of 2010.

And his manager admits he is desperate to hold on to the striker, with several clubs expected to put bids in for the forward after being alerted by his goal-scoring prowess.

"It was a tremendous individual performance and a great achievement," Lennon said.

"He's a special player and I'm delighted that he is fulfilling all the talent that we think he has. Obviously I think there are people out there who would pay for his talent and for his goals.

"He's a goal-scorer and they are priceless in the game. We want to keep him there and we'll do our very best to do that.

"If you look at Nikica Jelavic and what he has achieved since going to Everton from Rangers, then there is no reason why Gary Hooper can't do that in any division, whether it be the Premier League, Spain or Italy.

"He scores big goals in big games. He's got a good record against Rangers and he's scored in European games.

"He's only 24 and he's got the world at his feet so we would like to keep him. I think he has progressed very well here and I think there is more to come from him in terms of his all-round game.

"There are a few (players) I would like to ring-fence because they are very important players for us and Gary would fall into that category."

At one stage, the Hoops trailed Rangers by 15 points and their title bid looked to be over as early as November.

However, a 17-game winning run in the league saw them overhaul their rivals at the top of the SPL before the Ibrox club were deducted 10 points for entering administration in February.

Lennon, who said he expected to sign a new contract with the club in the coming days, hailed his players for the exceptional turnaround in their fortunes.

"I wanted them to finish the season on a high. I wanted them to play entertaining football and I wanted us to win the game handsomely and I got all that," Lennon said.

"We always felt it was going to be an emphatic title win. We have been pretty much flawless since October in the league.

"We've had a couple of defeats along the way but the intensity and quality of the play for a good four or five months was excellent.

"We have broken the clean sheet record and we just fell short by one goal of the goals scored last year and we have conceded just 20.

"We've got the best disciplinary record in the country and we've won the league by 20 points so I think that ticks all the boxes for me."

With one eye on next week's Scottish Cup final against Edinburgh rivals Hibernian, Hearts rested seven first-team regulars and struggled to cope with the Hoops from the start.

Manager Paolo Sergio took responsibility for the heavy defeat but denied his players had been distracted by the prospect of next week's showcase final.

"No way -- it's a different game and a different day," he said.

"We knew it was going to be very hard but we have to remember too that we were playing against the champions."


AFP

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