Celtic 1-0 Motherwell: Hooper strike stretches gap at the top for hosts
Fraser Forster spared Celtic with a penalty save before Gary Hooper sealed three points.
Gary Hooper's late strike gave Celtic victory over Motherwell in their Clydesdale Bank Premier League encounter at Parkhead.
Hoops keeper Fraser Forster made a brilliant save from Tom Hateley's penalty, awarded for Kelvin Wilson's challenge on Jamie Murphy, just before the Englishman converted a Georgios Samaras cross from close range with 11 minutes remaining.
Not for the first time this season at home, though, the champions ended up struggling to get three points from a match that should have been over by the interval. Well keeper Darren Randolph kept Celtic at bay with a series of saves although there were some glaring misses too before Hooper pounced to take Neil Lennon's side into the winter break nine points clear of Inverness at the top of the table.
However, Motherwell manager Stuart McCall, set to lose forward Murphy to Sheffield United this week, will wonder how different it might have been had Hateley scored from the spot.
Lennon made four changes and returned to a back four after admitting three at the back did not work in the 1-0 defeat by Hibernian at Easter Road on Saturday.
In came Adam Matthews, Beram Kayal, Kris Commons and Charlie Mulgrew with skipper Scott Brown, Mikael Lustig, Lassad Nouioui and Thomas Rogne dropping out, the latter two on the bench.
Motherwell showed two changes with Fraser Kerr and Zaine Francis-Angol in for Shaun Hutchinson and Michael Higdon, the big striker consigned to the bench where he watched the home side's whirlwind start suggest a demolition job.Samaras had the ball in the net from Commons' cross in the second minute but was flagged offside.
Commons then flashed a shot from the edge of the box just wide after being set up by Hooper, who then turned and drove wide after taking a Kayal pass with his back to goal.
In the seventh minute Randolph made a fine save from Hooper's stab from close range after more good work on the left from Samaras, before tipping stand-in skipper Mulgrew's curling free-kick over the bar for a corner.
There was no let-up in the pressure on the Motherwell goal and moments later Randolph flew to his left to pluck a goal-bound Commons shot out of the air. The Hoops support groaned once more when Victor Wanyama then missed Mulgrew's corner altogether from eight yards, allowing Well to clear their lines.
Murphy, skipper for the day, should have put the visitors ahead following a break in the 20th minute when he was played in by Keith Lasley but he lashed the ball over the bar.
Defender Efe Ambrose guided Mulgrew's whipped-in free-kick past the near post from six yards out.Motherwell slowly grew in confidence as the first half wore on.
In the 37th minute Murphy tested Forster with a drive from the edge of the box and moments later curled a shot from 14 yards past the far post after working his way past Kayal and into a good shooting position.Samaras had a low drive from 20 yards saved by Randolph.
With seconds remaining Ambrose missed the chance of the half when Randolph dropped Wanyama's header from a Mulgrew corner, the Parkhead defender hooking the ball over the bar from barely two yards.Celtic had an unconvincing start to the second period but with six minutes gone Randolph tipped a deflected shot from Wanyama over the bar.
Celtic dropped the tempo which allowed Well to breath slightly easier but Randolph was still seeing plenty of the ball, making another decent save from Commons' right-footed drive from 25 yards in the 67th minute.
Both sides were taking turns to attack but Motherwell were handed a great chance to take the lead when referee Steven McLean adjudged Wilson to have tripped Murphy in the box.
There was some concern as to whether Hateley had the ball on the spot or not - and Forster was booked for pointing this out - but when the Motherwell player blasted his shot to his left the Celtic flew across to make a great save.
The incident seemed to energise Celtic and they were soon in the lead when Hooper played the ball to Samaras and ran into the box to collect the return pass and slip the ball under Randolph from six yards.
There were some nervy moments before the final whistle as Motherwell went for broke but in the end Celtic deserved their win.