Cup final rehearsal for Rangers and Hearts

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The Independent Online
Rangers tonight tackle the first of five remaining fixtures which will decide whether they or Celtic have the opportunity of playing in the European Champions' League next season.

Walter Smith's double-chasing side, five points ahead in the title race with five matches to play, travel to Edinburgh to meet Hearts at Tynecastle in a rehearsal of the Tennents Scottish Cup final on 18 May.

Celtic, meanwhile, will try to lift themselves after their Old Firm semi- final defeat on Sunday as they meet relegation-threatened Kilmarnock at Parkhead.

It is another intriguing evening made all the more interesting by yesterday's declaration by both clubs that they will join the end-of-season scramble to sign Gianluca Vialli when the Juventus captain's contract expires.

The Rangers captain Richard Gough, meanwhile, will be asked to decide for himself if he is fit to return for the game at Hearts after a five- week absence.

"Richard has had the benefit of some more training but we have to be careful with a calf muscle injury," the Ibrox assistant manager, Archie Knox, said. "We will make a decision nearer the time and it will be up to Richard if he feels he is ready to play.

"Hearts are through to the Cup final and they were the last side to beat us when they came to Ibrox and won 3-0 in January. Their players will be playing for Cup final places and have a chance of Europe through the league so there is a lot to play for on both sides.

"As for the title, we are in a good position but there is still a helluva lot more to be done before we achieve anything.

"Beating Celtic last Sunday was a big win for us. If beating your great rivals in a Cup semi doesn't lift you, then nothing will, but we still have to go out and perform today."

While Rangers expect to field a similar side to the one that beat Celtic, Hearts will give a debut to their new pounds 400,000 signing from Raith, Colin Cameron. Gary Locke is doubtful with an ankle injury and their assistant manager, Billy Brown, said: "We know it will be a hard game against Rangers and we don't see it as a cup final rehearsal. The final is a long way away right now and we have five games in which to try and finish as high up the league as possible."

After the hurting, comes the healing. That is the hope for Celtic and their supporters as Kilmarnock visit Parkhead. Manager Tommy Burns yesterday described Sunday's 2-1 defeat by Rangers as "hard to take" and spoke of "lying in bed long into the night" on his efforts to reward Celtic's long- suffering supporters."I don't expect any reaction to Sunday other than a positive one," said Burns, who could have John Collins back in his squad after a groin problem.

"The Celtic supporters must take great credit for the ovation they gave us at full-time at Hampden and everything we do is for them," he added. "I'm sure the ground will be full for the Kilmarnock game because they realise there is still a big prize to play for."

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