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Commons in right place at the right time

SPECULATION that Gary Hooper, whose first season at Norwich City has not worked out as well as planned, could be set for a return to Celtic would give Kris Commons a challenge to relish.

Kris Commons has had cause to celebrate as his 31 goals for Celtic this season have helped him pick up the PFA Scotland and football writers' player of the year awards along with the league titlePhotograph: PA
Kris Commons has had cause to celebrate as his 31 goals for Celtic this season have helped him pick up the PFA Scotland and football writers' player of the year awards along with the league titlePhotograph: PA

The 30-year-old, who is a big admirer of his former team-mate, has eclipsed Anthony Stokes in replacing Hooper as Celtic's top scorer.

With just today's Scottish Premiership matches to complete the programme, Commons is almost certain to end the season as the league's top marksman as well.

Another goal against St Johnstone in midweek left him on 26 - comfortably clear of out-and-out strikers John Sutton, Kris Boyd and Stevie May, and seven ahead of Stokes.

Unsurprising, then, that Scotland's football writers concurred with PFA Scotland and voted Commons the country's player-of-the-year. His goals have made him the most effective player in Scotland this season, and without them Celtic's stroll to the league title might not have been so straightforward.

Although playing for the champions has unquestionably helped him reach 31 goals overall going into the last game of Celtic's season, Commons has previous form which shows he can score goals in any team. He notched 29 in 2010/11, the season he joined Celtic, but 13 of them were for Derby County and two of them for Scotland.

Before that Commons had also found the way to the net comfortably at Nottingham Forest, but he certainly wasted no time in getting off the mark at Celtic - just five minutes into his debut against Aberdeen in a League Cup semi-final at Hampden. Nevertheless, with Hooper no longer on the premises to provide the goals, Commons has been particularly prolific this season.

"To score 31 goals has been brilliant," he says. "I've been in the right place at the right time. This year I've had that instinct to get into positions that all strikers get into.

"You talk about strikers like Michael Owen and Robbie Fowler and they knew where to be to get the ball in the back of the net. I've kind of been in similar positions - between the penalty spot and the goal line. It's just been natural to me this year.

"I scored a few goals early in the season - like the one in the Champions League qualifier against Karagandy - and that gave me confidence. A lot of the time I've been playing off one striker so I've been expected to get into the box.

"When I was at Derby I was ­playing just off a big striker and trying to create goals from that angle.

"We work hard in training on things like getting across the front man. It has been about good movement and anticipating things. It's just kind of come together this season.

"I do get more attention from defenders, but that's the luxury of playing for a good side. If two players mark me then it leaves more space for others. And although people are marking me closely I've been working hard to find ways to lose them.

"I've found an extra yard and try to anticipate where the ball will drop. I've scored five or six goals from reacting to goalkeepers palming the ball back out. It's about being sharp and alert, and I probably wasn't doing enough of that a couple of years ago."

Neil Lennon's deployment of Commons, playing him in the middle behind the striker, or strikers, has obviously meant getting into the box is easier and more natural, a change from when he arrived at the club and was asked to work the left side of the pitch with Emilio Izaguirre.

Pointing out that the club have no obvious target men such as Chris Sutton and John Hartson, he says: "We don't have guys who can put balls in the back of the net with their heads on a regular basis.

"When I came in there was myself, Stokesie and Hoops, all of whom are less than 6ft tall, so we had to play on the deck, one-twos, and that isolated the wingers because they weren't getting the ball.

"So I think we found a system that worked. We had Emilio Izaguirre, Adam Matthews and Mikael Lustig who could get up and down and do that kind of job and myself, who could be pushed inside. If I can get the ball inside those pockets and turn then I can usually find a pass to create a goal."

Unfortunately no longer available to Gordon Strachan and Scotland because he wants to spend more time with his wife Lisa and their three young children, Commons is chuffed at picking up the PFA Scotland and football writers' awards.

"I've won monthly awards in the past, but nothing like this," he points out. "I feel that since I've been at Celtic I've had one bad season in three-and-a-half years.

"When I look back on my career here it will be full of good memories. There are regrets, but every player - even at the highest level - gets that."

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