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Gary Hooper handed perfect stage to impress Hodgson

Thursday, 4 October 2012 - 11:34am IST | Agency: Daily Telegraph
Celtic's 'world class' striker can stake claim for England honours by making a mark in Barcelona double header.

On the night he was described as "world class" by Neil Lennon, Celtic striker Gary Hooper further increased his claim for an England call-up on Tuesday with a timely goal in the Hoops' Champions League victory against Spartak Moscow.

Hooper has now scored seven goals in four games and if Roy Hodgson does heed Lennon's call for international recognition, it would complete an extraordinary progress for the man who served his apprenticeship with Southend, Leyton Orient, Hereford and Scunthorpe before Celtic paid pounds 2.4?million for him in July 2010.

The Harlow-born Hooper, 24, has an eye for the headline-grabbing feat. He was the Scottish Premier League's top scorer last season with 24 goals and last week he netted four when Lennon's side cruised past Raith Rovers in the Scottish League Cup.

Neither of those feats, however accomplished they may have been on the day, would have had Hodgson reaching for his mobile to call the man.

A consistent strike rate against a higher calibre of opposition is wanted for that sort of credibility, but he posted notice of an ability to trouble more accomplished defenders than he generally encounters in domestic chores in Moscow on Tuesday.

Lennon eulogised after the game: "Gary Hooper was world class tonight. I thought he was just magnificent and the catalyst for a lot of good things we did tonight. People keep asking me about him playing for England, well I think he showed how good he is tonight."

As an Old Firm striker, Hooper is rated, in the first instance, by the goals he scores against the arch foes and he put three in the Rangers net in two games in his first season at Parkhead, en route to a total of five in 10 derby appearances over two campaigns.

In the limelight of European competition, Hooper scored on his Celtic debut, in a Champions League qualifier against Braga in August 2010.

He struck against HJK Helsinki in Celtic's first Champions League qualifier this season and added another in a bravura performance against Spartak as Lennon's players went second in Group G, behind Barcelona.

Hooper now has the perfect stage on which to impress - back-to-back games against Barca. If the striker emerges from those with more goals to his credit, Hodgson might just want to put him on speed dial.

 


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