Dembele defiant before derby

Stand-in skipper Joe Ledley scored twice as Celtic cruised to a

5-0 win over SPL bottom club Dundee at Celtic Park.

Ledley scored once in each half, while James Forrest and Dylan

McGeouch were also on target and Gary Hooper netted for the first

time in six matches as the hosts extended their lead at the top of

the table to 21 points.

The Dark Blues thought they had taken the lead after just five

minutes when Gary Harkins’ free-kick crept in at the near past but

an alert linesman spotted that John Baird had strayed offside.

Neil Lennon’s side soon reasserted their control and were ahead

through Ledley, who captained the team in the absence of the

injured Scott Brown.

Dundee keeper Rab Douglas could only palm an Emilio Izaguirre

cross into the path of Ledley and he slotted home from eight yards

(13).

Gary Irvine then pulled off a crucial block to deny Forrest’s

goalbound effort before Hooper came to the fore.

First he fired over following some neat link-up play with strike

partner Anthony Stokes before Douglas palmed away a stinging

effort, with a subsequent low angled drive fizzing just past the

upright.

The visitors briefly rallied, with Fraser Forster doing well to

tip a deflected Harkins shot over the bar.

The same player was then denied soon afterwards, his header

bouncing up off the turf before hitting the crossbar.

That was as good as it got for the Taysiders though as they were

reduced to 10-men early in the second half and conceded from the

penalty spot.

Matt Lockwood, only on the pitch for three minutes after coming

on as a half-time substitute, was dismissed on 48 for bringing down

Hooper right in front of goal and Forrest send Douglas the wrong

way with his spot-kick.

Stokes then scuffed an inviting shot past the post but Dylan

McGeouch killed the game off with a header into the top corner

after the impressive Stokes had clipped the ball into the box

(57).

Ledley notched up his second goal of the contest when he curled

left-footed into the top of the net after Stokes had laid the ball

off to him, with Dundee struggling to cope (73).

Celtic continued to press and Hooper ended his mini goal drought

in emphatic fashion seven minutes from time, controlling Ledley’s

ball into the box before volleying home.

Boyd, who scored 164 goals across spells with Killie and Rangers

between 2001 and 2010, re-signed before Saturday’s 1-1 draw with

Aberdeen at Rugby Park in the SPL.

“It was great to get him in and it’s great to have that type of

person back in the squad,” said Shiels. “He will be back in with us

on Monday and we will work from there. It’s self-explanatory what

he will bring to us – he is the top scorer of all time in the SPL

(era).

“There’s a hunger there and I can see that, I think he’s an

excellent professional who has served the game well and we are

excited about that.”

Kilmarnock were fortunate to claim a share of the spoils against

the Dons. Rory Fallon’s brilliant volley gave Aberdeen the lead

they deserved before Paul Heffernan got Kilmarnock back on terms

five minutes before half-time.

Aberdeen passed up a number of good chances to grab a vital

second goal and were denied a penalty with 15 minutes remaining

when Kilmarnock goalkeeper Cammy Bell appeared to foul Niall McGinn

in the penalty area.

Shiels would not be drawn on the controversial decision, saying:

“I’m trying very hard to discipline myself not to speak about

referees.

“I’m not allowed to speak about referees and I’m not allowed to

speak about other teams because they’ll fall out with me.”

Aberdeen striker McGinn was baffled after receiving a yellow

card for diving in the incident.

“In my own eyes and in the eyes of a few of the Kilmarnock

players too it was a stonewall penalty – I think the referee was

the only person inside the ground that didn’t think it was a

penalty,” said McGinn.

“I was chasing the goalkeeper down and he took a bad touch, I

thought I was going to raid him then he brought me down.

“You just have to get on with things, being a professional

footballer you just have to get on with things.”

The Dons now face a crucial encounter against Ross County on

Tuesday evening and the Northern Ireland international believes

they can take confidence from their display at Rugby Park.

“We played well against Kilmarnock and we have to take that into

our game against Ross County,” he said.

“Hopefully on Tuesday we can take our chances.”

The County forward played a big part in his side’s 3-0 victory

over Motherwell at Global Energy Stadium on Saturday, with Ivan

Sproule, Richard Brittain and Iain Vigurs scoring as the Dingwall

cruised to their sixth win in their last eight fixtures.

Morrow said: “We’ve had six wins and two draws in the last eight

games, nearly a third of the season unbeaten so we’re doing

okay.

“We’ll keep trying to put the points on the board and see where

it takes us.

“We’ve got good players here and everybody is pulling in the

right direction. We work hard for each other, we’re very united in

the changing room.

“We’re just going about our business quietly. We’ve no

aspirations, this is the first season the club has been in the SPL,

so we’re doing well.”

Looking ahead to Tuesday night’s match against Aberdeen at

Pittodrie, he added: “Aberdeen is a big side, they are probably the

third biggest side in Scotland after the Old Firm.

“We’ll just try and do our best and see where it takes us.”

Morrow was particularly please with his own form as the side’s

lone marksman.

He said: “I played well but it’s a bit of a thankless task up

there on your own.

“That’s six or seven games up there on my own. I’m the only

player on the pitch that is playing against two players.

“You want to be in two places at once at times. You want to be

the one holding the ball up and also the one getting on the end of

the pass.

“You can’t do it, you can’t be in two places at once. But as

long as the team is winning and putting the points on the board I’m

happy.

“We’ve found ourselves in a great place with the run we’re on.

The target at the start of the year was survival.

“We’re happy ticking along and see where it takes us. If it’s

top six, then brilliant.”

Motherwell captain Keith Lasley admitted his side were well

below par.

He said: “It wasn’t great but credit to Ross County. The

conditions were difficult but both teams have to play on that and

Ross County played a lot better than we did.

“But the pitch is not the reason we lost the game, we just never

got going. Ross County started on the front foot and we didn’t.

“We just didn’t put anything together. We never passed the ball

well and we never got in behind them. It just wasn’t

acceptable.”

Lasley is looking for a reaction before the match against league

leaders Celtic at Fir Park on Wednesday.

He said: “It will be a difficult game, we’ll have to see if we

can get a reaction. But there is no reason why we can’t go and win

that game.

“That’s what we have to focus on now. But we’re going to have to

be a lot better than we were yesterday if we are going to get a

result.”

The Highlanders missed out on a cup final date with St Mirren

when they lost on penalties to John McGlynn’s side at Easter Road

last month.

But some form of vengeance was gained with their 3-2 win over

the Edinburgh outfit at Tynecastle yesterday. It was only Caley

Thistle’s second win in eight games but was sufficient to move them

back up to second place in the SPL.

Now Wales international Tudur Jones believes only securing a

runners-up slot to leaders Celtic will soothe the pain of missing

out on their cup final chance.

Tudur Jones said: “It was obviously disappointing to be that

close to a semi-final. So to play Hearts so soon after, yes, it

does play a little part in your thinking.

Asked if closing out second would make up for losing that game,

he said: “I think it would. The league table is established over a

long period of time and finishing second would be huge.

“The achievement for this football club would be massive but we

are a long way off that at the minute. The first target must be to

finish in the top six. If we can achieve that then we can hopefully

kick on again.”

Gary Warren’s headed double and another close-range header from

SPL top scorer Billy McKay provided the points for Inverness after

Jason Holt and Andy Webster had twice pegged the visitors back.

For 20-year-old Holt, it was a bittersweet moment as his

stunning strike ended up counting for nothing. With Hearts now

employing a firm policy of promoting young players, however, he

admits it will be up to him to deal with the disappointment of

defeat.

He said: “It is good to get a goal but the main thing was the

result but we didn’t manage to get that today, which is really

disappointing.

“It’s a tough time for the young lads like me to try and develop

but it is going to make us better players in time to come. We are

quite a young side but we need to learn from these situations.

“Sometimes it can be hard as we don’t have many experienced

players in the team to turn to but we do have Andy Webster and

Darren Barr, who are always helping us through the games.

“But it’s part and parcel of the game that you need to pick

yourselves up and do your own job.”

The 28-year-old Sierra Leone international came off the bench

for the final half-hour at Carrow Road on Saturday, and helped

secure what could prove a vital Premier League victory with a

powerful header to cancel out Leon Osman’s first-half opener.

Captain Grant Holt then netted a dramatic winner in

stoppage-time.

Kamara – who left his homeland aged 14 before eventually

migrating to the United States from Gambia and going on to play

football at college – had an unsuccessful trial at Stoke in

December. While Hughton was not able to watch the pacy, 6ft 2ins

forward personally, the Norwich manager saw enough to convince him

to give Kamara his opportunity in the English top flight.

“The ideal scenario means you have been able to go and see the

player, but I was not able to see him play live, although our chief

scout had,” said Hughton, who could yet make a permanent move for

Kamara at the end of the season.

“I have only seen him on DVD, but you have to trust judgements

of your scouts and the people who are giving you references.”

Hughton had initially opted for Luciano Becchio, signed from

Leeds last month, alongside Holt, but after watching the

Argentinian labour for long spells, he called on Kamara to liven up

the attack.

Norwich – without a league win since December 19 and having

scored just once in the last six outings – were at least more

creative yesterday, with Robert Snodgrass’ early angled shot

deflected over.

However, it was Everton who slowly took hold of the match.

Nikica Jelavic forced a good save from Norwich goalkeeper Mark

Bunn before Osman headed in a fine cross from left-back Leighton

Baines on 39 minutes.

The visitors, though, paid the price for not making the most of

their possession in the second half, when they failed to net

another goal which would have killed off the contest.

Everton sat deeper and were eventually broken down on 84 minutes

when Kamara crashed in a header from a corner.

Hughton’s men, though, refused to settle for what would have

been a hard-earned point as Russell Martin’s deep ball into the

Everton box was nodded down at the far post by Sebastien Bassong

and Holt arrived on queue to slam past Tim Howard, souring the

American’s 300th appearance for the Toffees.

“When you are 1-0 down against a top team, you would settle for

1-1, but the difference in this division between one point and

three points is massive,” said Hughton, whose side now hold an

eight-point cushion on the survival battle ahead of next weekend’s

trip to leaders Manchester United.

“It will give the players confidence, they are the ones who have

driven to the end to get the win.”

The Latics have established their reputation under Martinez for

a fluid passing game, however the Spaniard believes the lack of a

harder edge has proved costly this season.

Wigan have kept just four league clean sheets so far this term –

remarkably all of them have come away from home – with the latest a

3-0 win at Reading yesterday that pulled them out of the bottom

three.

Reading had taken 10 points from the past 15 on offer but failed

to get a shot on target as Arouna Kone’s double added to a rare

Maynor Figueroa strike banked the points.

While delighted to grab a first league win of 2013, Martinez was

keener still to stress the importance of his side’s defensive

display as they look to beat the drop yet again.

“I would say defensively it was as good as it gets,” he said.

“Defensively you know you are going to play against a Reading side

that are strong, especially in the dead-ball situations. We dealt

with that really well.

“We have to keep improving but to keep a clean sheet away from

home, especially at the Madejski Stadium, is pleasing.

“Since they’ve changed tactically they have become a very

difficult side to restrict.

“So that clean sheet pleases me as much as any defensive display

this season.

“We have to make sure we replicate this level until the end of

the season.”

Martinez brought Paul Scharner back to the club last month and,

while that raised some eyebrows, the veteran proved how vital his

know-how in a relegation fight could be yesterday.

Most notably the versatile Austrian, who lined-up at centre-back

alongside Gary Caldwell, denied Pavel Pogrebnyak with a

perfectly-timed diving challenge before Wigan had scored.

“That concentration and responsibility in the box was very

pleasing,” Martinez said.

“Our attacking composure and quality was again good. We have

been showing that this season. But we never had that clinical way

of defending and keeping a clean sheet.”

Victory was Wigan’s second on the bounce after they booked their

place in the FA Cup quarter-finals with a 4-1 win at Huddersfield

last weekend.

Those victories have come after the club went to Tenerife for

some warm-weather training that Martinez believes could be a

turning point.

“After the warm-weather training I think we have re-focused,” he

said.

“The first game back was against Huddersfield in the FA Cup. You

have seen a large amount of players representing the club in both

games.

“You can see our competitive edge, a focus and a real

responsibility in the performance.

“It is a matter of keeping a winning feeling and keeping those

standards.

“This was the last game in February and for us to be involved in

two competitions is a good position to be in.

“We have to concentrate on winning our trophy in the league

which is staying in this division, and every game is vital.”

The Northern Ireland forward netted the pick of the bunch as the

Light Blues fought back from behind to claim a 3-1 win at Berwick

on Saturday.

Injury problems within the squad meant Little was recently

handed his preferred role of playing through the middle up front

and he has not disappointed so far.

And he hopes he is on the right path to convincing boss Ally

McCoist he should stay there.

Little said: “It’s always been my aim. But there are other

players who can do that role.

“They’ve been unlucky with injuries and thankfully I’ve had a

good run now.

“I’ve stayed injury-free and I’m playing reasonably well so I’m

just happy with that.

“At the start of the season, ‘Jig’ (Lee McCulloch) was playing

up there and he was scoring goals for fun himself so there was no

need to change it.

“I was thrown in because there was nobody else to play the

position at the time and I’m delighted with how I’ve done in the

three games I’ve played up there.

“I just need to keep it going and keep my place.”

An Anestis Argyriou own-goal handed Berwick the lead after just

four minutes before Dean Shiels levelled from the penalty spot.

Little then fired Rangers into the lead on the stroke of half

time with a lovely volley and Sebastien Faure came off the bench to

open his account for the club in the second half.

Little has now netted five goals against Berwick alone this

season.

He said: “I was delighted with the goal but I expect myself to

score goals when I play up front for Rangers so I only did what I

was supposed to do.

“I’m happy to score against anyone. My main aim this season was

to play as many games as I can.

“I’m keeping track of how many games I’m playing more than how

many goals I’m scoring. That’s the most important thing for

me.”

Rangers were fortunate to escape with a 1-1 draw from their last

visit to Shielfield at the start of the season, as they struggled

to adapt to life in the Irn-Bru Third Division.

But Little believes the Light Blues have now got to grips with

their new surroundings in the bottom division.

He said: “It was very similar to the last match here, a scrappy

game.

“The weather, the pitch – it’s easy to make excuses and I think

maybe that’s what we did at the start of the season.

“If this game had been at the start of the season, we might not

have gone on to win it like we did.

“That’s the most pleasing thing, that we showed we’ve got the

battling qualities that you need to go on and win a league.

“I think we’re just a bit more streetwise.

“I don’t think there was a feeling that we thought it was going

to be easy in this league.

“But you learn from your mistakes and that’s what we’ve

done.”

The pressure is on Spurs to re-establish their four-point lead

over Arsenal ahead of next Sunday’s north London derby at White

Hart Lane.

Last season Tottenham held a 10-point advantage over the Gunners

in February, but they then fell away spectacularly and ended up

missing out on Champions League qualification thanks to Chelsea’s

win in Munich.

Andre Villas-Boas is determined not to let the same thing happen

again this term. His team have been the personification of

consistency in the league, where they are unbeaten since December

9.

They also go in to Monday’s game on the back of a

morale-boosting win over Lyon in the Europa League – and the man

who secured their progression to the last 16 on Thursday night

thinks he and his team-mates are playing at the top of their game

right now.

“We don’t have to fear any team,” said Dembele, who secured a

3-2 aggregate win with a 90th minute equaliser in the Stade de

Gerland.

“People have respect for us. If you’re in a winning mood it’s

important in the league.

“We have two more very important games coming up in the league

so the confidence will stay high and that’s good for us.”

Given the gulf in ability between the two sides, West Ham are

expected to approach the derby cautiously.

Tottenham have struggled at times to break down teams who shut

up shop. They have often had to rely on the brilliance of Gareth

Bale to find come away with three points, but Dembele is confident

Spurs will be able to overcome their rivals on Monday regardless of

the tactics they employ.

“It will be a different game to the Lyon one of course,” Dembele

said.

“Teams always have a lot of respect for us and they drop back so

it’s always difficult, but I think we need to do the difference, we

have to fight for each other as well. It will be a physical game,

for sure, but we are used to it and this is a special match for us

and the supporters too because it is a derby.”

Spurs put in a poor display in the first half on Thursday night,

but regrouped to pepper the Lyon net and finally found the winning

goal thanks to Dembele.

Spurs started the season with a worrying tendency to concede

late on, but they have reversed that pattern in recent weeks,

scoring crucial goals in the dying stages of games against Lyon

(twice), Norwich, Manchester United and Newcastle.

Villas-Boas now hopes the result in Lyon, which set up a last-16

tie against Inter Milan, will inspire his team to victory at Upton

Park.

“We’ve been having some great, great results,” the 35-year-old

said.

“After Europa League games we’ve always been good in the Premier

League. I think it puts us in a good position to face West Ham.

“I don’t think it’s a distraction, I think it’s an inspiration

and I hope it can be exactly that against West Ham.”

Although Villas-Boas is keen for talk of their glamour tie

against Inter not to distract his squad, William Gallas cannot help

but think about the meeting with the Italian giants, against whom

Spurs played out two memorable games two seasons ago.

“We played a match against Inter at San Siro [in October 2010]

which we lost, but it’s a place we like a lot because when we

played there against AC Milan [in February 2011],” the Spurs

defender said.

“That game took us to the Champions League quarter-finals. We

know the pitch and the fans well. We’re happy to be going there and

we’ll head out there to get a result.”