Old Firm in race for Europe

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The Independent Football

Rangers and Celtic go into the final straight of the Scottish title race with Europe on their minds.

The winners face a single qualifying double header to gain entry to the Champions' League while the losers must try to negotiate their way through another round. Celtic hold a two-point lead but as they do not play until tomorrow, hosting Aberdeen, Rangers can go back on top by beating Hearts at Ibrox today.

"It is up to us," said the Rangers manager, Alex Mcleish. "We know that we can't look for help from anyone else to beat a decent Hearts side."

Although Rangers are likely to be without Michael Ball who injured his rib in last month's Old Firm derby defeat, his fellow left back, Gregory Vignal, has recovered from a groin problem. That should see Fernando Ricksen restored to the midfield at Alex Rae's expense after he had reverted to right back for last week's 3-1 win at Aberdeen.

Maurice Ross had filled in on the left on that occasion but should be able to switch to the other flank.

McCleish's Celtic counterpart Martin O'Neill, meanwhile, played down claims that Stilian Petrov's stay at the club will come to an end in the summer.

It had been suggested that the Bulgarian international midfielder was ready to leave Scotland two years before his contract expires because of the bad weather, and O'Neill joked: "He's not said anything to me but he's absolutely spot on about the rain."

Petrov and Chris Sutton are likely to be fit for the final three matches of the season. They suffered a setback last week when Hibernian snatched a 3-1 win at Celtic Park. Petrov left the ground on crutches with an ankle injury but has returned to training and is expected to retain his place in the side.

Sutton has also returned to training after struggling with a groin injury. Craig Bellamy (hamstring) and Didier Agathe (groin) are both still missing.

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