Rangers and van Hooydonk both have to play the waiting game
By IAN PAUL
20 Apr 1996
THE end, as it says on the sandwich boards, is nigh.
Championship, promotion, and relegation decisions will be reached in the next few weeks, some of them maybe even today.
The premier championship could be one of them but, as that would need Celtic to lose to Falkirk - a draw would be virtually the end of their title ambitions - meet at Parkhead this afternoon, it seems an unlikely scenario.
Rangers would need to have beaten Motherwell at Fir Park for that to come about, and that may not be such a good thing, either.
The chances are that there will be title questions still to be answered by the time the sweat and toil is over for another Saturday.
Not so in the basement, where it is long odds-on that Falkirk officially will be demoted to the first division by teatime and likely that Partick Thistle will find themselves preparing for a play-off to retain their elite status.
At the top, Celtic manager Tommy Burns concedes that this could be the day that counts in the end.
"Rangers are playing Motherwell, one of the best teams in the league, and it might be vital for us how that turns out.
They also have to play Aberdeen and Kilmarnock, difficult games.
But if our own attitude is not right, our games will very tough, too." Burns remains pleased with the progress his own club has made on every front over the past couple of years, but is also quick to pay tribute to the Rangers effort this season.
"The points we have collected this season, I am sure, would have been enough to have won the league by this time last year, which shows you the tremendous standard Rangers have set." Burns has been busy making what will be considered Bosman-wise negotiations with his out-of-contract players, and reported that Tommy Boyd, who has been outstanding all season, is set to sign a new four-year contract.
"He is a first class professional and has been remarkably consistent this season." Others are in the pipeline, but the one remaining query surrounds John Collins, who has insisted he will not make any decisions until the season is ended.
Collins is one of a handful of players who were involved in a midweek bounce game to sharpen them up after absences, but generally the full squad, minus Phil O'Donnell, is available.
Rangers, too, are in good condition for their visit to Motherwell.
Ally McCoist, who is added to last week's successful pool against Partick Thistle, could team up with the man who has already made an impressive scoring impact, Eric Bo Andersen.
"The fact that the winning post is in sight now is maybe the most important factor for us," said manager Walter Smith, "and we hope that would inspire the players to play at their best.
But Motherwell have been going well recently and it will be another tight game." Motherwell will give striker Tommy Coyne every chance to make his return after suffering a hip injury, but it is probably odds against him making it.
Manager Alex McLeish is excited at the prospect of such a big game at this stage of the proceedings.
"There will be a big crowd and a great atmosphere, which is what every player enjoys," he said.
"We are really looking forward to it." Aberdeen meet Hearts a couple of weeks after having lost to them in the cup semi-final, could still have defender Gary Smith on the staff next season, despite the fact that the player had indicated he was intending to leave in the summer.
"The player's agent has asked for a meeting," said manager Roy Aitken, "and if they want to talk I will be happy to listen.
I thought he was wrong when he said he was intent on leaving and I still do." Smith is injured and misses out today, as does suspended striker Billy Dodds.
Hearts manager Jim Jefferies may leave out Gary Mackay and Pasquale Bruno, who would miss the cup final if they suffered another booking.
Partick Thistle will give it all they have at Kilmarnock to keep their hopes of avoiding the play-off alive, but are waiting to see if key man Ian Cameron will be fit.
Killie, who need a point to secure their own premier status and force Thistle into the decider, have fitness doubts over Billy Findlay and John Henry.
Hibs will have Joe McLaughlin back after suspension against Raith Rovers at Easter Road and Keith Wright will start the game.
Rovers have no injury worries.
Taken from the Herald