By Ryan Fleming
It wouldn’t have been right. An injustice would have been done. But before Gary Hooper scored his second goal of a 2-1 win over Dundee United on Sunday at Tannadice, it seemed as if the Hoops were headed back to Celtic Park feeling gutted, cheated.
“It was one of the best performances I’ve seen since I’ve been in charge of the team in terms of attacking, quality football,” Celtic manager Neil Lennon told soccernet.com. “I’m very proud of the team, and despite a very controversial decision going against us, they never let their heads go down, we kept creating chances and we got what we deserved.”
Referee Dougie McDonald’s controversial call saw Hooper denied a penalty with his team even to United, 1-1, in the 69th minute. The former Scunthrope striker clashed with Dundee keeper, Dusan Pernis. McDonald awarded the penalty immediately, but to overturn his own decision minutes after conferring with assistant Steven Craven.
“He’s given the penalty and for me he can’t change his mind,” Lennon told soccernet.com. “I didn’t get an explanation until the referee came over and spoke to me.
“His (Craven’s) explanation was that his linesman had a better view of it and the keeper had played the ball. I find that unacceptable. He looked pretty adamant to me when he gave the penalty. He got a really good look at it.”
But for Hooper, the seemingly outspoken in-the-moment hero, who guaranteed he would catch Rangers star forward Kenny Miller in the league scoring race, provided Celtic with a sense of relief in what was the club’s most dramatic league game to date.
“I’m very proud of the team and despite a very controversial decision going against us, they never let their heads go down, we kept creating chances and we got what we deserved,” Lennon told the Daily Record. “Some of our stuff was breathtaking and I couldn’t ask for any more.”
For the young Hooper, his inaugural season for his new team is still young, but he’s already showing the Celtic faithful what he’s capable of. If Hooper can continue to shine on the field and continuously pot goals for a team that struggled last season to find the score sheet, he could find himself the newest of Celtic’s heroes.
After McDonald single-handily crushed the momentum the Hoops had following the “awarded” penalty, Celtic seemed to reach within themselves, to gather up enough fight to claw away at United’s defense and chip in the second goal.
“It would have been a huge blow had we not won the match,” Celtic forward Anthony Stokes told the Daily Record following the game.
Lennon emphasized his players thoughts.
“It was one of the best performances I’ve seen since I’ve been in charge of the team in terms of attacking, quality football.”
Lennon’s right. It was one of the best – if not the best. A game where all the characteristics of a good team were evident – heart, teamwork, determination. With Gers winning comfortably, 4-1, at Motherwell, the Hoops will need those characteristics and their new star, Sunday, for the first Old Firm clash of the season.
Ryan Fleming can be reached at Ryan.Fleming@TheSoccerGuysOnline.com.