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FOOTBALL: DODS-WALLOP; DIVISION ONE.

Byline: ANTHONY HAGGERTY

DARREN DODS is acutely aware that St Johnstone's First Division title hopes could go up in the Ayr today.

Thay have hit top form at the right time of the season but the Perth men are walking a tightrope and the big defender knows they are just one defeat away from disaster.

Dods is intent on stretching Saints' winning run to eight games against Ayr United at McDiarmid Park and heap pressure on title rivals Falkirk.

The Perth defender has risen to the championship challenge with three goals in the last five games and even managed to shut up hitkid Keigan Parker in the process.

Dods said: "We're coming good at the right time and getting goals from corners and free-kicks.

"I've never scored more than three in a season for Hibs or Saints so hopefully there are more to come.

"It took time to break my duck - far too long - but now I can wind up the strikers. And for once I've succeeded in keeping Keigan Parker quiet in the car going through to Perth."

Saints take on league leaders Falkirk, whom they trail by six points, next Saturday. But Dods said: "We have to keep our focus on the Ayr game and make sure we get the three points to keep the pressure on Falkirk."

Dods' manager Billy Stark added: "We are in reasonable shape and looking forward to this one after having a wee break last week to recharge the batteries.

"It's good to see defenders coming up with goals. Darren is not a secret weapon but with three goals in five games he has a record any striker would be delighted with.

"At last we're getting results from our set-pieces and that is very pleasing for any manager."

Teenager David McClune is out with a calf strain and Tommy Lovenrkands is recovering from a virus but ex-Ayr defender John Robertson returns to the squad after a five- game lay-off with a groin strain.

Ayr will be without the suspended Alan McManus.

Falkirk have been boosted by the news that long-term crock Kevin Christie is back for the vital run-in.

The defender is back in the Bairns' squad to face Ross County today with Trinidad and Tobago striker Collin Samuel also included after returning from international duty.

Co-manager Owen Coyle said: "Kevin has been training for the last three or four weeks and has come through two games, the latest being on Thursday when he scored in a reserve match.

"It's great to have him back for the final games of the season."

County give a debut to ex-Dundee United midfielder David Hannah.

Keeper Derek Soutar returns from Under-21 duty with Scotland to take his place for Alloa today against Clyde.

Richard Walker also returns for Alloa but Clyde will be without the suspended Andy Millen and injured David Hagan and Steve Convery.

However, young striker Mark Gilhaney returns after duty with the Scotland Under- 19s and Clyde boss Alan Kernaghan said: "They gave us a right fright the last time we met and we will have to be on form."

Inverness Caley Thistle must do without the suspended Barry Robson at home to an unchanged Queen of the South side.

St Mirren have again been hit by injuries with Brian McGinty, Scott McLean, Martin Baker all out while Ally Mitchell and Mark Dempsie are struggling to make this afternoon's Love Street clash with Arbroath.

But the Buddies will be boosted by the return of top scorer Martin Cameron.

John Brownlie adds John Cusick and Andy Cargill and said: "That strengthens our side and we are still fighting to get as many points as possible."
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Apr 5, 2003
Words:611
Previous Article:FOOTBALL: Mark's staying on new two-year Diamonds deal; DIVISION TWO.
Next Article:FOOTBALL: Mac's army hit the road for crunch clash; DIVISION THREE.


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