Celtic hoping Petrov will be fit to fire final assault on title

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Celtic will travel to struggling Livingston tomorrow needing two wins at most to seal the Scottish Premier League title, which will probably be wrapped up a week on Wednesday. Victory for Gordon Strachan's side this weekend, combined with a home win over Hearts in their next game, will make the title certain regardless of other results.

If second-placed Hearts, whose manager, Graham Rix, was sacked in midweek, fail to win at Falkirk today, Celtic could win the SPL without even beating the Edinburgh side on 5 April.

Celtic are hopeful that Stilian Petrov, who was injured in the midweek win over Inverness, will be fit for tomorrow. Bobo Baldé and John Hartson are also available despite stomach and hamstring problems. Roy Keane, whose agent denied yesterday that the Irishman had already been interviewed for Nottingham Forest's managerial vacancy, will be out for up to three weeks after tearing a hamstring in last weekend's CIS Cup final win over Dunfermline.

Whenever Celtic are crowned, Strachan will have won a league and League Cup double, his first trophies as a manager, in his first season in charge in Scotland. Hearts have only a double managerial sacking to their name in this campaign, although they still have their eyes on the Scottish Cup and qualification for the Champions' League.

"Our key objective is to reach the Champions' League by finishing second, and winning the Scottish Cup," said Hearts' interim coach, Valdas Ivanauskas. The 39-year-old former Hamburg player and Kaunas manager added that "realistically I would have to do that at least to become head coach [permanently]. It is a stressful job and I would like it. I believe I have the right qualities for the job. It is a hard situation to have taken over in these circumstances but the opportunity is nice for me."

Hearts are in a four-way race for second place, along with Rangers (six points behind them this morning), Kilmarnock (nine points behind) and Hibernian (10 points). Rangers host Dunfermline today, Hibs host Inverness, and Kilmarnock travel to Dundee United.

The Rangers captain, Barry Ferguson, who has been delaying an ankle operation while his side have tried to salvage something - anything - from a woeful season, said yesterday that he will play on while second place is still up for grabs.

"If we don't do well and Hearts are too much in front of us, then I will go in earlier," he said. "But just now it is as soon as the last game finishes. The specialist told me it'll be three months that I'll be out."

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