| 8.5°C Dublin

In brief: Celtic increase lead over Gers

Celtic stretched their lead at the top of the Scottish Premier League to five points yesterday, taking advantage of second-placed Rangers' defeat to Hearts with a 1-0 win over Aberdeen at Celtic Park.

Anthony Stokes' 27th-minute strike was enough to seal the win, the Irish striker running on to a Gary Hooper pass to round Dons 'keeper Jamie Langfield and stroke into an empty net.

In the lunchtime kick-off, Ryan Stevenson grabbed the only goal of the game with a close-range shot on 77 minutes as Hearts shocked Rangers to move within two points of the champions.

Elsewhere, Kilmarnock drew 1-1 at home to Dundee United, while Inverness and Hamilton (1-1) and St Johnstone and St Mirren (0-0) also ended in stalemate. Hibernian slumped to second bottom with a 2-0 defeat at Motherwell.

Cardiff move up to second

Cardiff City replaced fellow Welsh side Swansea in second place in the Championship after holding off a Watford comeback to win 4-2. First-half goals from Craig Bellamy, Michael Chopra and Jay Bothroyd gave the Bluebirds a big lead but Will Buckley and Marvin Sordell struck back for Watford. Gabor Gyepes made the game safe for Cardiff in the 83rd minute

Substitute Davide Somma ensured a point for Leeds in their 2-2 draw at Portsmouth. The hosts led 1-0 at half-time thanks to Joel Ward's 26th-minute strike, but the visitors levelled through Luciano Becchio. Pompey regained the lead through John Utaka in the 61st minute,before American Somma equalised with his first touch.

Norwich enhanced their promotion credentials with a hard-fought 2-1 victory at luckless Sheffield United.

'Don't blame me,' says Rafa

Rafael Benitez has rejected suggestions that Liverpool's struggles are partly down to his management, insisting: "It's not my fault, sorry". Benitez, who joined Inter Milan in the summer but left before Christmas, acknowledged not all of his moves in the transfer market had been successful but said the bones of a strong team were in place.

"We know we made some mistakes," he said. "We are not happy with some of the signings but we are really pleased with the majority of them. In the team now, Pepe Reina, Glen Johnson, Martin Skrtel, Daniel Agger, Fabio Aurelio, Lucas Leiva, Fernando Torres, Maxi Rodriquez, Dirk Kuyt, so it's a massive, massive team.

"I think the team is good, the problem may be the mentality. So I think Kenny can change these things and will hopefully be good for the team. They will be much better with Kenny because he knows the club, knows the fans and what they want."

Ferguson rules out new faces

Alex Ferguson has ruled out any prospect of adding to his squad during this month's transfer window. "I won't be going into the transfer market during the present mid-winter window," said the Manchester United boss. "I don't feel that it is necessary to buy just for the sake of it because, as I say, I am more than happy with my squad."

Kranjcar set for Spurs exit

Tottenham are willing to listen to offers for Niko Kranjcar after manager Harry Redknapp revealed the midfielder wants to leave White Hart Lane. The superb form of wingers Aaron Lennon and Gareth Bale has restricted the Croatian to just 12 appearances so far this season. "Niko really is looking to move," said Redknapp.

"He wants to play. He doesn't like playing on the right. It doesn't suit him. He wants to play off the left but Gareth has been playing there and been playing fantastic. He understands that." Liverpool and Chelsea have been linked with a move for the midfielder.

Larsson agent slams Blues

Birmingham have rejected a transfer request from in-demand midfielder Sebastian Larsson, according to his agent, Per Johnson. The Sweden international -- who has just six months remaining on his contract -- had been given permission to speak to Newcastle over a possible move before Birmingham allegedly performed a U-turn and decided to keep him.

"On Thursday, Seb gave in a transfer request and Peter Pannu [acting chairman] emailed us to say Birmingham would be making a new contract offer," said Johnson. "The request was put in as a protest. We had been in talks with Newcastle until the plug was pulled. Birmingham have treated Seb like cattle. Going backwards and forwards [on proposed transfer deals] is not acceptable. The club needs to sharpen up a bit and get a bit of class."

Sunday Indo Sport