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'Celtic need a miracle'

IT'S a clash of optimism and realism, confined to the stage of the Scottish Premier League.

Cavan lad Cillian Sheridan knows he could achieve hero status at his own club, Celtic, if he can play a part in helping St Johnstone, where the striker is currently on loan, to defeat Rangers in Perth tonight and give the Hoops, currently 10 points behind leaders the Gers and with two more games played, a tiny beacon of hope in the SPL title race.

But U21 cap Sheridan is also realistic enough to understand that a Rangers side which has dropped just two points from the last nine league games are not going to throw away a 10-point lead and allow Celtic steal in to take back the title.

So while he knows that a win for St Johnstone in Perth tonight would give some relief to suffering Celtic supporters, the main aim is to help his club achieve their aim of being in the top six when the SPL splits in two next month, and at the same time to prove to the decision makers at Celtic that he has what it takes to deliver for the Parkhead club and not just spend his time out on loan.

"A win for the team and a goal for me tonight would be amazing, but it probably won't do Celtic any good at this stage, they are just too far behind," Sheridan told the Herald.


"Celtic don't just need a favour, like us beating Rangers tonight, they need a lot of miracles over the next few weeks and it's just hard to see that happening. Rangers have been so strong they don't look like a side who are going to go on a losing run.

"It's just a pity that the gap is so big, 10 points, and that Rangers have two games in hand on Celtic. If it was a bit closer than that it would make our game against Rangers tonight a lot more interesting.

"We will be fired up to win the game, there's no doubt about that.

"We have a lot to play for ourselves at St Johnstone, we can't really qualify for Europe this season as we're too far behind but we can make sure that we are in the top six when the SPL splits -- that would be an achievement for a club who only came up to the SPL last season.

"We are very strong at home and on our day we can match anyone, so we will do our best tonight.

"And I will be trying harder than ever, to score any goal is special but to score against Rangers would be amazing for me.

"I have only played against Rangers twice, once in the league last season when I was on loan to Motherwell when they beat us and this season with St Johnstone when they knocked us out of the CIS Cup.

"So I want to get a win against Rangers and score a goal against them before the season is finished, hopefully it could happen tonight," added the Ireland U21 international.

Sheridan is currently on his third loan spell away from Celtic, and his experience at St Johnstone is certainly happier than his time in England with Championship strugglers Plymouth in the first half of the season, where the Cavan man failed to score in 14 games.

Sent back to Parkhead, he hoped to slot back into the first team squad -- Sheridan made his debut for the Bhoys back in February 2007 -- but then manager Tony Mowbray opted to loan him out again, this time to St Johnstone.

"It's been a much better move for me and I am really enjoying it here," said Sheridan.

"I didn't play all that much at Plymouth, I was only getting a few minutes here and there as a sub but I've been able to get games here and it's been good for my confidence, I scored a couple of goals (three) as well and that was good for me too.

"I feel more a part of it here, at Plymouth I knew I wasn't going to play but I know I have a chance here at St Johnstone."

Sheridan will see out the season in Perth with the Saints and return to Parkhead for the start of next season.

A product of Belvedere in Dublin, he has one year left on his contract at Celtic and next season is make or break for the man from Bailieborough.

"I still feel I can make it at Celtic and do well for the team, I just need to prove that," said Sheridan, who had his best run in the Celtic side last season when he scored four goals in 16 appearances under Gordon Strachan, including memorable Champions League games against Manchester United.

Big changes will have taken place at Parkhead since he left on loan, as manager Mowbray has already gone while Robbie Keane is likely to be back at Tottenham by then, and those two issues could open the door for Sheridan.

"Neil Lennon is the man in charge now and it could be good for players like me if he gets the job long-term," he says. "Neil was the reserve team manager at Celtic so I have played for him. He knows me and I know him and if he does get the job, he might give some of the younger lads a chance.

"Robbie has done great for Celtic since he went there, and of course if he does go back to Spurs it will free up a space in the team, but I have a few other strikers ahead of me still so I have a long way to go."

Progress could also be slow at international level.


Eighteen months ago there were calls (though premature) for Sheridan to be elevated to the senior Ireland squad on the back of his form with Celtic and the fact that he was a rarity: an Irish striker playing in the group stages of the Champions League.

He has since then dropped back a level with club and country, biding his time with a very unimpressive Ireland U21 side and Sheridan knows he has to deliver, at U21 level and then for his club, before Giovanni Trapattoni will come calling.

"I can't even think about the Ireland squad now because it's a long way away for me. I can't expect to even get in the squad, let alone the team, if I am not doing well, and I need to prove myself at U21 level," confesses Sheridan, part of the Irish U21 side which was humbled by 4-1 and 2-1 back-to-back defeats by Armenia in the European qualifiers.

"We should be doing better than we have done as our record is not good, but we all have to take the blame," he says.

"Our play in the games so far should have got us a few wins. We created a lot of chances in all the games but didn't finish them and as a striker I have to take part of the blame for that too.

"We will have a new manager in place for the next U21 game in August, hopefully we can show what we are made of, get a couple of wins and the players can use the U21 squad to show the senior team manager what they can do," said Sheridan.