Kilmarnock the pawns in title endgame

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The Independent Football

The Kilmarnock manager, Jim Jefferies, believes the Scottish Premier League championship will be decided on the final day of the season.

The Kilmarnock manager, Jim Jefferies, believes the Scottish Premier League championship will be decided on the final day of the season.

His side could have an important say in whether Celtic or Rangers emerge victorious as they play both sides before the season end. Kilmarnock travel to Rangers today and play hosts to the league leaders on the season's final day, as they attempt to catch third-placed Hearts and qualify for the Uefa Cup.

With Celtic three points ahead of their Old Firm rivals after doing him a favour yesterday by beating Hearts 1-0, Jefferies said of the title joust: "It's too close to call. A lot depends on the availability of key players and Celtic have a few out injured at the moment.

"Celtic have also got the Uefa Cup final on their minds but there is no doubt they want the league championship badly as well." The title could be settled by goal difference – Celtic's is two goals better than Rangers' – goals scored or even a one-off play-off at a neutral venue.

Killie beat Hearts last week to keep their own hopes alive after the Jambos had taken a huge step towards European football the previous week by beating Celtic at Tynecastle – thanks to Austin McCann's late goal. Jefferies pondered on how costly that goal had been, saying: "McCann's goal might turn out to be worth a lot, especially as the gap would have been one point between us if they had lost.

"We have got Celtic after the Uefa Cup final and we will be at home. They never find it easy at Rugby Park."

The defender Greg Shields, an Ibrox old boy, and midfielder Gary Locke are back in the squad after injury, but the defender Chris Innes is a doubt because of a groin problem. The goalkeeper Gordon Marshall is expected to start despite being told his contract will not be renewed in the summer, though Jefferies is convinced the 39-year-old, who was previously on the books of both Rangers and Celtic, can find himself another club in the summer. He said: "He thinks he can play on and I do too. He doesn't have to prove himself."

The Rangers striker Shota Arveladze insists that if he and his team-mates concentrate only on winning the next three games the goal difference tally will look after itself. Form suggests Kilmarnock should pose few problems in the first of the trio of games – Rangers have scored 19 goals in the sides' last four Ibrox meetings.

"We need nine points from three games and then we have to count the goals," said Arveladze. "First we have to win and then we can see how far we have come. If you go into a game thinking you can score six or four then you make it more difficult for yourself than thinking that it is a just a game and you need three points. It would not be right to count goals before points."

Since the winter break Rangers had led the league until Celtic overturned an eight-point advantage in the past three weeks. Arveladze added: "We were so long at the top of the league and now there are just three games to go and so many things have changed. We have to think positive and change that. We can't be angry and do nothing."

The Georgian international called on the Ibrox faithful to remain positive if Killie's resistance turns out to be stubborn, as might be expected from a side challenging for a Uefa Cup place. He said: "We need them now. They always do a great job but now we need them like never before. For the last three games we need that special voice."

Meanwhile, Arveladze may have played his last international after walking out on Georgia before their historic victory over Russia last week. Arveladze had been desperate to play in the game and took on a marathon journey to reach his homeland but felt "unimportant" when he discovered he was not in the coach Ivo Susak's starting line-up. Arveladze said: "I have not retired but I left because I felt I was not important there.

"They knew I would be late as I informed them I could not go until after the Celtic game. It was very important for me and for Georgia. It was my dream game. I changed planes in four countries to be there.

"It was very surprising for me. I just felt they didn't need me. Fortunately we won and the people were happy and as long as Georgia keep winning I will be happy."

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