Johnson doubt unsettles Celtic

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The Independent Online
SCOTTISH FOOTBALL

Celtic must beat Aberdeen at Parkhead tomorrow to ensure Rangers will not end the afternoon celebrating a ninth successive championship.

All Celtic can probably hope to do is make their Old Firm rivals, who do not play this weekend, wait to equal the record set by the Parkhead club under the late Jock Stein.

Celtic may without Tommy Johnson, their pounds 2.4m acquisition from Aston Villa, who is one of four players doubtful for the match. That is grim news for the Celts who, disregarding Tuesday's testimonial victory over Manchester United, have not won in five games.

If the Premier Division title is a waning ambition - for only the collection of three points will keep Celtic's slight hopes of overhauling Rangers alive - then Wednesday's Tennents Scottish Cup semi-final replay with First Division Falkirk offers a diversion. It is a temptation, however, they will have to resist, insists Celtic's assistant manager, Billy Stark.

"We've four league games left and a Cup semi-final replay and we want to end on a winning run," Stark said. "Players can't pick and choose games to play well and nor can you do that over 90 minutes in a game. It's not like a tap you can turn on and off. It might be human nature to be thinking about the Cup replay but that won't be tolerated here."

Johnson marked his debut with a goal against Falkirk last Saturday but is suffering from a slight hamstring strain. Injuries may also rule out Enrico Annoni, Jorge Cadete and Chris Hay. Peter Grant is suspended but Alan Stubbs is fit after the head injury sustained last week. Paul McStay has trained after his groin injury but will be a late decision.

With the title still to be decided - just - the relegation issue looms largest today. Kilmarnock and Hibernian meet at Rugby Park in a match vital to both clubs, with each being three points ahead of second-bottom Motherwell.

Kilmarnock, Scottish Cup semi-finalists and unbeaten in six games, will again be without their Scotland Under-21 international winger, Alex Burke, while their opponents have Chic Charnley suspended. Fellow midfielder Pat McGinlay is doubtful with an ankle injury, but central defender John Hughes could return line-up after a long-term back problem.

Motherwell play Dundee United at Fir Park knowing that nothing other than victory will do if Airdrie, who look certain to be First Division runners-up, are to be avoided in the play-off. United will secure a Uefa Cup place if they win.

In the First Division, St Johnstone can confirm both the championship and automatic promotion by beating relegated East Fife at McDiarmid Park, while Ayr United will step up from the Second if they take at least a point against Clyde at Broadwood.

At Dingwall in the Third, Ross County meet Forfar as they attempt to join Inverness Caledonian Thistle in climbing a division.

Hearts float, page 25

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