Rangers could be Scottish champions by the time you read this -- but Celtic manager Neil Lennon refused to give up hope ahead of Wednesday night’s game at Hearts.
A shocking 3-2 defeat for Celtic away to Caledonian Inverness Thistle last week all but handed the title to Rangers, who lead by a point with just two games to go.
Dundee United were next up for the reigning champions on Tuesday night, 24 hours before Celtic’s game away to Hearts in Edinburgh.
A 2-0 win away to Kilmarnock on Sunday, thanks to goals from Scott Brown and Kris Commons, did offer Celtic some hope.
“We have two games to go and anything can happen,” said Lennon after Sunday’s win. “What we are looking for is somebody to compete and give Rangers a game.
“There has not been much evidence of that in their previous two games. Even if we had drawn the game against Inverness on Wednesday night, I’m not sure goal difference would have made a difference, looking at the two games that Rangers have had.
“Dundee United have something to play for now, a European place. The results went for them at the weekend and they are looking for a result on Tuesday and we will be looking for a result on Wednesday.”
Lennon paid tribute to Commons and claimed that pound-for-pound there has not been a better signing this season than the midfielder who arrived at Parkhead from Derby in January.
“I wouldn’t have thought there has been a better buy, not for £300,000,” said Lennon.
“Mind you, Emilio Izaguirre at half a million/£600,000, has been a fantastic bit of business as was Beram Kayal, at 1.2 million euros.
“So we have been lucky in that respect, the players we have brought in this season have been magnificent. Kris is coming to the peak of his career. You almost get disappointed when he lashes a couple over the bar, he’s that good.
“You can look at four or five of his goals for goal of the season. He has been tremendous, he has a tremendous work rate and he is always likely to pop up with a goal.”
Captain Brown still believes Celtic can wrestle the championship trophy back from Ibrox.
“There are two games to go this season and there is a still a title there,” said the Scotland midfielder.
“Anything can happen. But we need to win both games and see what happens with Rangers.”
Midfielder Kayal won’t play again this season after picking up an injury in Inverness.
KEVIN Doyle expects to return for Wolves in their must win clash with Sunderland on Saturday – and should feature in Ireland’s European Championship qualifier in Macedonia on June 4.
Doyle hasn’t played since he damaged knee ligaments in the home win over Macedonia in March, but expects to return to a Wolves side with a real chance of staying in the Premier League after Sunday’s 3-1 win over West Brom.
“I’m on track. I haven’t trained with the lads yet but have been working outside with the physios running and doing a bit of shooting and was on the pitch at Molineux before the West Brom game,” said Doyle.
“I’m hoping to join in again with the lads over the next few days. Hopefully I won’t have any reaction this week and if it goes all right I should be available.
“I feel I’m naturally fit enough and would be ready if needed but the pressure won’t be on this week after such a fantastic performance from the lads.
“If I can get through a few days’ training then hopefully I’ve got a chance of being on the bench.”
IRELAND boss Giovanni Trapattoni has an injury crisis on his hands ahead of the European qualifier in Macedonia next month.
Shay Given will be back for the big game but fellow ‘keeper Keiren Westwood and Damien Duff are definitely out.
Trapattoni has named a 33 man squad for the Carling Nations Cup games and the Macedonia trip which now includes West Brom striker Simon Cox and goalkeeper Darren Randolph.
Republic of Ireland squad: Given (Man City), Randolph (Motherwell), Forde (Millwall); Dunne (Aston Villa), O’Shea (Man Utd), Foley (Wolves), Delaney (Ipswich), Clark (Aston Villa), Coleman (Everton), Kilbane (Huddersfield), Kelly (Fulham), McShane (Hull); McCarthy (Wigan), Whelan (Stoke), Wilson (Stoke), Gibson (Man Utd), McGeady (Spartak Moscow), Fahey (Birmingham), Lawrence (Portsmouth), Treacy (Preston), Hunt (Wolves), Ward (Wolves); Keogh (Wolves), Stokes (Celtic) Folan (Colorado Rapids), Walters (Stoke), Keane (West Ham), Long (Reading), Cox (West Brom).
THE FAI won’t make any decision on Giovanni Trapattoni’s future as Ireland boss until the European Championship qualifiers have come to an end.
Trapattoni wants to stay in his lucrative position through to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil but the FAI aren’t ready to open talks on a new deal.
“It’s a matter of the association’s board to discuss it at the appropriate time,” said FAI chief executive John Delaney.
SHAMROCK Rovers moved four points clear at the top of the Airtricity League Premier Division after a scoreless draw at St. Pats on Monday night. Dundalk staged a smash and grab raid to win 1-0 at Bohemians while UCD scored a 3-0 victory at home to Galway United . . .
DUNDALK will meet Galway United in the only all Premier Division tie in the third round of the FAI Cup next month while champions Sligo will host non-league Pike Rovers from Limerick . . .
THE FAI has announced a reduction in tickets for the Aviva Stadium, with a new cut-price season ticket available from August for all Ireland games and the FAI Cup final . . .
FINN Harps have appointed Peter Hutton as their new manager and Felix Healy as director of football .
FORMER Irish international Paul McGee is the new manager of First Division Salthill Devon.
IRISH star Paul McGinley has paid tribute to golfing legend Seve Ballesteros, who passed away at just 54 years of age last weekend after a lengthy battle with brain cancer.
“I used to say to him and he used to laugh that he reminded me a lot of Elvis Presley,” said McGinley.
“I know that’s a big thing to say, but not just in trail-blazing but also in looks, I don’t think it’s too high a thing to say that he was very comparable.
“What I remember is the charisma and the passion. The Ryder Cup would not be what it is without Seve. He led the charge. Nobody in the golf game has ever had the same charisma. When he smiled the whole world smiled with him - it’s the old saying. He had that ability.
“And it was the same when he scowled -- everybody knew how Seve was feeling. His emotions were multiplied by 10 all the time.
“You could easily read Seve and I think that’s what endeared him so much to so many people, especially the people in Britain and Ireland. I think that’s where he had his greatest affinity with the golfing public.
“Seve was one of those guys where if you liked him he liked you back 10 times more and if you didn’t like Seve he hated you 10 times more.
“He was that kind of personality. Yes he had his moments and his brushes with authorities, but that’s what kind of made him.
“He lived his life in a very emotional way and that’s made him so endearing.”
HEINEKEN Cup finalists Leinster have signed Connacht winger Fionn Carr and Brive second row Damien Browne for next season while hooker Richardt Strauss and flanker Dominic Ryan have signed new contracts with the Blues . . .
FULL-back Isa Nacewa has been named Player of the Year by the Irish rugby players’ union and Leinster Player of the Year by his provincial team-mates . . .
THE Magners League semifinals will see Leinster host Ulster on Friday night, while Munster will play the Ospreys on Saturday . . .
EDINBURGH have appointed former Ireland scrum-half and Connacht boss Michael Bradley as their head coach on a two-year contract . . .
LIMERICK man George Clancy will referee this season’s Amlin Challenge Cup final between Harlequins and Stade Francais.