However, Burns gave no indication that his leading goalscorer Van Hooijdonk, who is wrangling over his contract and his long-term future, will return to the side when Celtic visit Dunfermline tonight. Celtic, who are struggling to close the gap on Rangers, will however welcome back the midfielder, Phil O'Donnell, after a four-month injury absence.
The Van Hooijdonk saga is in danger of assuming pantomime proportions and it took another twist yesterday. Somewhere between being an unused substitute for the Netherlands against Belgium in a World Cup qualifying match in Brussels on Saturday and Celtic's Barrowfield training ground yesterday morning, the 27-year-old developed a groin strain. Burns rated Van Hooijdonk as doubtful for the visit to East End Park and the manager said: "The last I saw him he had an ice-pack on his groin in the dressing- room."
Van Hooijdonk wants to renegotiate his contract terms, but has refused to commit himself to staying beyond the 18 months left on his deal. Burns said it would "make no difference to me" to suspend talks until the end of the season, so that everyone at Celtic can concentrate on clawing back and then overhauling Rangers. "This season is not about Pierre Van Hooijdonk, it is about Celtic Football Club trying to win a championship," a clearly angry Burns said. "Most certainly it is about competing for it until the last possible moment. We managed that last season and want to do the same this year - and go one better. There are no guarantees of that, but if all we want is to fight with each other, shouting for this player to go or that player to go, or the manager to go, it just causes anarchy."
Burns asked fans not to be split over the Van Hooijdonk issue or any other and to concentrate on backing his side as they seek to end a run of just one point from the last three games. "I don't want them fighting among themselves about players," he said. "If we give all we've got, then we will get to where we are going a helluva lot quicker.
"Let's see what happens at the end of the season. I am sure we will be very pleased with where we are then if we stick together. This is a vital time for everyone at Celtic. We have a lot of games coming up and I need everyone to stick together if we are to be a force to be reckoned with."
Even if Van Hooijdonk plays, Burns has selection problems with the Italian Paolo Di Canio suspended and Jackie McNamara out with a hamstring injury. O'Donnell, however, is ready to return after playing only two matches this season in early August. He then suffered a thigh problem, but has played three matches with the reserves on his return. O'Donnell was a pounds 1.75m signing from Motherwell in September 1994, but injury has blighted his Parkhead career.
Dunfermline have the defender Colin Miller available again for today's game after his return from international duty with Canada over the weekend.Reuse content