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Celtic ´must go eight points clear´ for title chance

SoccerNews in Scottish Premier League 3 May 2008

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Celtic must beat Motherwell on Saturday to go eight points clear if they are to keep their Scottish Premier League hopes alive – according to Paul Hartley.

Although victory away to the Lanarkshire side would open up a healthy looking gap over Rangers, the Ibrox side will have four games-in-hand.

And Hartley admits any less than three victories from their remaining SPL games will gift the title to the Gers.

The Scottish international midfielder said: “Saturday's game is a must win for us. We can't afford to drop any more points so we must take maximum points from our last three games.

“That's been the case for a few weeks though. We know if we want to have any chance of winning the league we must win every match.

“But we've shown we are capable of doing that. Since losing to Rangers at Ibrox and then at home to Motherwell we've won four matches in a row. We've beaten Rangers twice, Motherwell at Fir Park and Aberdeen at Celtic Park.

“Now we need to continue that and take nine points from our final games.”

Having defeated Aberdeen and Rangers, following the SPL split, Celtic must now face three teams battling for third place and qualification for next season's UEFA Cup.

Saturday's opponents Motherwell are currently sitting in pole position for third on 53 points, one ahead of Dundee United and two ahead of Hibernian, and with two games-in-hand.

But Hartley expects three tough games.

He said: “All three teams have enjoyed really good seasons. Mark McGhee has done a fantastic job at Motherwell and they have some excellent young guys in the team.

“Dundee United and Hibs have also performed consistently well. They're all competing for European football next season so they have plenty to play for which will make them difficult opponents.

“But Rangers have to play them as well so the end of the season should be interesting.”

On Saturday, April 13 Celtic took revenge on Motherwell's shock 1-0 victory in Parkhead the previous weekend by winning 4-1 at Fir Park.

However, Hartley said: “The only thing that matters is we win – I don't care how many goals we score. We played well at Fir Park a few weeks ago and got a good result but the performance doesn't matter as long as we get the three points.”

Celtic captain Stephen McManus could make an unexpected return on Saturday after recovering quicker than expected from a calf injury he picked up in Sunday's 3-2 victory over Rangers.

On Sunday Rangers will hope there is no hangover from their UEFA Cup semi final in Italy against Fiorentina on Thursday, when they travel to Edinburgh to face Hibs.

The Ibrox side looked to be coasting to the title after winning at home to Celtic on Saturday, March 29, to go six points clear with a game-in-hand.

However, Rangers have not won in the SPL since – drawing away to Dundee United and losing twice at Celtic Park – and now trail their Glasgow rivals by five points.

Although their title is still in their hands, thanks to having played three games less than Celtic, manager Walter Smith will be eager not to give the Parkhead side any more grounds for optimism.

Aberdeen, who are on 47 points, will look to keep their slim hopes of finishing third alive by defeating Dundee United at Pittodrie on Saturday.

In the remaining SPL games this weekend Inverness Caledonian Thistle are at home to Gretna, who are already relegated and in administration and St Mirren play host to Kilmarnock.

And on Monday evening Falkirk are at home to Hearts.

Fixtures (1400 GMT unless stated)

Saturday

Motherwell v Celtic (1130 GMT), Aberdeen v Dundee United, Inverness Caledonian Thistle v Gretna, St Mirren v Kilmarnock.

Sunday

Hibernian v Rangers (1300 GMT).

Monday

Falkirk v Hearts (1845 GMT).

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