Football: Di Canio and McStay lift Celtic's spirits

Scottish football
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The Independent Online
Celtic's 4-2 win over Dunfermline will allow Tommy Burns to approach Thursday's Old Firm game with cautious optimism. The result cut Rangers' lead to 11 points with Celtic having played two games less, but perhaps more pleasing for Burns was the return to action of Paul McStay, the 32- year-old club captain, after a four-month absence with an ankle injury.

"It simply felt great to be back out there playing again in front of the Celtic supporters, and although I felt tired there was nothing wrong with my ankle," McStay said.

Burns will have concerns that Dunfermline were able to score twice but, in an effort to end a run of eight games without success against their greatest rivals, the Celtic manager will looks to the skills of McStay and Paolo Di Canio to produce a telling result.

The perceived wisdom suggests that the championship flag will fly over Ibrox if Celtic are beaten. Burns, however, feels that Di Canio is hitting form at the right time.

"Paolo gives us that wee something special," he said. "We've played well against Rangers over the past few years but it's been either a mistake or a moment of genius from Paul Gascoigne or Brian Laudrup that's hurt us. Now we have Paolo, who is capable of making something happen."

Di Canio is likely to play up front with Jorge Cadete, who has scored three goals in the last two games and will start against Rangers for the first time as Celtic look for their first New Year win since 1988, which was also the last time they won the League.

Walter Smith, the Rangers manager, played down the ever increasing hysteria - as he has done all season - by saying: "The outcome of Thursday's game won't settle the championship. What will settle it is the consistency of either side after that."

Rangers' match at Kilmarnock was one of 12 games which fell to the weather at the weekend, although four games were played in the Premier Division. Aberdeen remain third after Duncan Shearer scored an equaliser some five minutes into overtime against Hibernian.

Hearts were 4-1 victors over Motherwell, with John Robertson taking himself to within four goals of Jimmy Wardhaugh's all-time League record of 206 goals for the club. Robertson scored twice, while Motherwell, who have now lost three times in eight days, remain second bottom after this defeat.

Below them, Raith Rovers lost 1-0 to Dundee United after conceding a goal in the second minute. Their position is becoming increasingly difficult and they are now five points adrift of Kilmarnock, who occupy the safe position of third bottom.

An indication of the hysteria and depth of feeling that surrounds this season was shown on Saturday when a pair of boots worn by Paolo Di Canio raised pounds 58,000 at a charity auction. The boots, a one-off gold pair, were worn by the Celtic striker when he scored the winning goal against Aberdeen on Boxing Day. They were snapped up by the head of a sports firm for pounds 30,000, while a Scottish lottery winner, who had lost out with a bid of pounds 28,000, donated his money anyway to realise the pounds 58,000.

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