Hoops take a firm grip
Hooper hero as Celts push eight clear -- but Lennon urges caution
Celtic hero Gary Hooper is as cautious off the pitch as he is explosive with the ball at his feet.
A devastating double from the former Scunthorpe striker set Celtic up for an emphatic 3-0 win over Rangers which puts Neil Lennon's side eight points clear in the race for the SPL title race.
Despite having two games in hand even Rangers fans are starting to concede that it's going to take something special to retain the championship after watching their side be dominated by Celtic for the third time in seven weeks.
As the Hoops supporters lapped up their biggest win over Rangers in six years Hooper spoke quietly of the determination to succeed that Lennon has drilled into his young squad.
"We're not focusing on the trophies, all we want to worry about is winning games," the striker claimed. "That's the main thing.
"If we can keep doing that then we'll see what happens at the end of the season.
"We've three points and a clean sheet and that was all that mattered today. We're eight points clear even though Rangers have games in hand. That's massive for us."
In October, Hooper was the Celtic hero opening the scoring against Rangers but after the break Lennon's side crumbled losing three goals to hand victory to Walter Smith's side.
A month later Celtic threw away leads at home to Dundee United and Inverness Caley Thistle as questions and doubts surfaced about the mentality of Lennon's side.
The transformation since the new year win over Rangers has been remarkable with Hooper acknowledging the strides that Celtic have taken over the last five months.
"It says a lot for our mental strength that we've come from behind in the league," the striker added.
"In the last game we lost 3-1 but our performance today says everything about our mental strength.
"I don't know what's changed. Maybe we're just more confident now. We believe in ourselves more.
"We're playing good football and in the last few months we've proved we can defend as well. When you put those two things together it gives you a really good chance.
"The main thing is to defend first and then look at the attack.
"We've got the players to do a job at the back and that's a great weapon to have.
"The confidence is coming from the gaffer. He's just telling us to go out there and enjoy it and just win. We didn't want to leave anything out on the park."
The transformation in his side is matched by the reaction of Lennon.
Watching him celebrate on the sidelines is a throwback to the Martin O'Neill era where every goal was celebrated like a cup final winner.
Ten years in the midst of the Old Firm rivalry has taught Lennon to take nothing for granted with the Parkhead boss giving little away yesterday.
"We are more than pleased because that was emphatic," Lennon admitted. "However there are still 12 games to go in the league season.
"In 2005, we went to Ibrox and won with only four matches left and still lost the league. There is still a lot of football to be played.
"We have just answered the questions and that's all I can ask. There are a few more to come."
Rangers return to Parkhead next Wednesday for a Scottish Cup replay with the big two meeting at Hampden on March 20 in the final of the Co-Operative League Cup.