Burns unit on fire

Scottish football
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The Independent Online
THE Christmas lights at Celtic Park are shining a little brighter this year than last with the Bhoys buoyed by a solid start that sees them only two points behind the leaders Rangers, an unusual proximity compared with recent years.

In fact Celtic are 20 points better off now than they were before a Boxing Day draw at Aberdeen last season. Then they had 21 points from 16 games, while now they have 41.

"We expect to win every time we play - a belief any team serious about winning the championship must have," said the manager Tommy Burns, who this week was in Italy to study the set-up at Juventus. "We have the players who will keep going and who have the capacity to change a game with one moment of magic - as we showed in last week's 1-0 win over Falkirk.

"They are showing a real hunger and appetite, and have an inner confidence that has them looking forward to every game. We have proved we are title contenders and will fight to the last day - as it should be at this club. The challenges of the next few weeks are ones that we relish.

"We can look back on 1995 with satisfaction. A trophy is back at Celtic Park following the Scottish Cup win over Airdrie in May and we are rediscovering what it feels like to win on a regular basis by playing the Celtic way and that's vitally important."

Burns take his side to Raith hoping to keep the pressure on Rangers, who entertain Kilmarnock. The Ibrox boss, Walter Smith, has had to write off calf-injury victims Ally McCoist and Stuart McCall for Killie's visit.

Gary Bollan and Alex Cleland are in the doubtful category, but Smith will welcome back Paul Gascoigne after his two-match suspension. Oleg Salenko is also available after his one-match ban.

Kilmarnock will have Tom Black and Ray Montgomerie back in manager Alex Totten's squad, but Billy Findlay and Mark Skilling are injured and Derek Anderson is suspended.

Killie will hope to do better than they did at Celtic recently when they were 2-0 before conceding two goals in 60 insane seconds before half-time and ended up losing 4-2.

"None of us could believe what happened that day and we were all gutted in the dressing-room afterwards," recalled Brown. "We feel if we had held the 2-0 lead to half-time we would definitely have come away with at least a draw and maybe even a win.

"Since then we have beaten Falkirk and Partick but were hammered at Aberdeen. We need to show some consistency as the season enters a vital period with a handful of clubs bunched near the bottom."