Brown: Celtic can still win the title

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The Independent Online

The midfielder Scott Brown said yesterday that he has confidence in Celtic's ability to retain their Premier League title.

Hopes of winning a domestic double were dashed when Aberdeen won Tuesday's Scottish Cup replay at Celtic Park, Darren Mackie scoring the only goal of the game. The defeat left Celtic in the hunt for just one trophy – the SPL championship – and needing to close a three-point gap to a Rangers side who have a game in hand.

With 10 matches remaining, Brown sees no reason why the champions cannot come out on top once again. "What happens with the league title is up to us," said the midfielder. "There's more than a quarter of the season to go and if we win every game, we win the league. I know that sounds simple, but it's the situation we're in. All the boys know that and we're determined to finish with a bang and make sure that it's us who are celebrating come the end of the season."

Dundee United dented those hopes by earning a goalless draw in the east end of Glasgow in Celtic's last league match. Brown said the team's focus must turn to this weekend's meeting with Gretna.

He said: "The Dundee United game was a massive blow for us, especially because we had so much of the ball and a lot of the pressure. But we need to forget about that and look to the future. We've got a lot of match-winners in our squad, like Naka [Shunsuke Nakamura] and Aiden [McGeady] and I'm confident about our chances of winning the league."

Celtic's title credentials will be tested when they visit Ibrox at the end of the month, hoping to avenge the 3-0 defeat they suffered at the same venue back in October.

"We've got a point to prove," Brown said. "We need to go out there and beat Rangers and show that we are aiming to retain the title. Since that last game the team has changed a lot and the manager [Gordon Strachan] will have a lot more options than he did that day. Hopefully, he will be able to field the team he wants and we can go out and do the business. With nine points up for grabs, the derbies are going to be vital and we want to get off to a good start by winning at Ibrox."

Scotland's Under-21 coach, Billy Stark, believes Steven Fletcher's promotion to the full squad can act as a spur and not an obstacle to his team's European qualifying hopes.

The Hibernian striker is set to make his Scotland debut against Croatia next Wednesday, after the U21s play a crucial Uefa qualifier against Finland in Aberdeen. Stark believes his step up can serve as encouragement to the players he left behind that the Scotland manager, George Burley, is taking note of their progress.

"It's not a blow," Stark said. "In common with any team, you can lose players to injury or suspension, and in our case with Steven it's through stepping up to the full team. Obviously, that's the best scenario. We wish him well, we think he deserves it. It gives an opportunity for other players to come in but also it shows George is ready to bring players from the U21 squad if they have shown they are good enough, both with the U21s and playing consistently with their teams."

Fletcher has formed a potent partnership with Motherwell's Ross McCormack and Rangers' Steven Naismith. Stark said McCormack would relish the increased responsibility.

"Ross has shown that he would be in the running for player of the year, he has had such an impact," he said. "He has made a good contribution to the U21 squad in the championship so far and I'm sure the type that he is, he will take on the mantle in Steven's absence as well."

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