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Toe pokes, headers, and tap-ins

KRIS COMMONS might not consider himself to be a striker but even he can recognise that he is starting to look like one.

Commons celebrates another goal at Rugby Park. Picture: SNS
Commons celebrates another goal at Rugby Park. Picture: SNS

The Celtic player is now dipping a toe into very special waters.

His hat trick against Kilmarnock last Friday took him to 26 goals for the season, 21 of them in the league to make him the SPFL Premiership's leading goalscorer. That is the type of return Gary Hooper provided until his £5.5m move to Norwich City last summer and it is a strike rate which compares favourably with those of Celtic's best in recent history.

With nine games remaining, it seems likely that Commons' will pass the 30-goal barrier. Only twice since Henrik Larsson left Celtic a decade ago, has that been achieved, by Scott McDonald in 2007/08 and Hooper in 2011/12, both of whom hit 31 in all competitions.

Commons has already eclipsed John Hartson's 20 in 2005/06, Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink's 18 in 2006/07 and is poised to equal Mark Viduka's 27 from 1999/2000. The 32 and 33 scored by Pierre van Hooijdonk and Jorge Cadete in the mid-90s, and Hartson's 30 from 2004/05, are very much within Commons' grasp.

Yet, it took Hooper's exit - he struck 82 goals in three seasons - to offer the opportunity for Commons to undertake his transformation, even if the midfielder did not feel it was his responsibility to replace his friend. "I suppose I have been put into a more forward-thinking position since Gary left," he says. "Yet, I came into the season thinking I would play left or right midfield or drift into the hole behind the striker. I just felt reaching double figures would be a more realistic return for a player like me.

"However, with Gary leaving it has left a bit more space for me. I play a bit more advanced now and we play with one striker up front and the onus is on myself and a few other midfielders to try and get into the box to score. That probably encapsulates the second goal at Kilmarnock, where, somehow, I've got into the six-yard box for a tap-in."

Commons best seasonal return before this remarkable campaign was 13, for both Nottingham Forest and Derby County. So, does he feel he is over-achieving at 26 goals? "Yes, maybe," he agrees. "I'm getting into good areas. It's not really natural for me to be scoring from two or three yards. It's not really in my DNA. I just tend to pick up the ball 25 yards out and look to get shots away. For me to try to get into the box and try to score headers, or tap-ins, that's something I've now added to my game."

As if to prove that he's never been consumed by the art of goalscoring, Commons reveals that his idols as a boy growing up in Mansfield, near Nottingham, were those who offered different attributes.

"When I was a young kid, I watched Nottingham Forest, but it was guys like Stuart Pearce, who had a good left foot, Ian Woan, Teddy Sheringham, Des Walker. They were top players playing in the top division in England. Then I began to have an interest in Manchester United because of Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and David Beckham."

By contrast, Hooper's strike rate has slowed considerably. The former Celtic forward has managed just seven since moving to Carrow Road but Commons is convinced that his former team-mate will eventually thrive and secure Norwich's survival in the Barclays Premier League.

"It's a different kettle of fish down there," reflects Commons. "Gary's in a team that's battling every week at the bottom and there not as many chances as here. For Gary, it's a completely different look on things. Very different to Celtic. The EPL is tough. Strikers can move for tens of millions of pounds and still struggle to find the back of the net but Gary is a natural finisher - one of the best players that I have ever played with and fingers crossed he does it [save Norwich from relegation]."

Neil Lennon revealed last week that Celtic will be taking up their option to give Commons a one-year extension when his contract expires in June, though both parties could have a long-term future. "I've not thought about it but the way the manager is talking, if he wants me here for the next five years then I'm going to be on his coaching staff," joked Commons.

"It's out of my hands and people above Neil Lennon will tell him the ins and outs and he will have his own opinion. Once the season is out of the way we will be able to sit down and figure something out. It would be nice to stay a lot longer because I feel good and love playing for the club."

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