Rangers FC was supposed to be sniffing after archrival Celtic FC by now, two points off the pace with two games to go and virtually no hope of claiming their 54th Scottish title this year.
Now the Blues, with Fontana's Maurice Edu a midfield fixture, are a week away from claiming a third successive championship.
Celtic's shock midweek loss at Inverness Caledonian Thistle gave control of the Scottish Premier League race to its Glasgow rival, and Rangers responded with an emphatic 4-0 rout Saturday of third-place Hearts. The Blues are 28-5-3, one point ahead of Celtic (27-4-5), and huge favorites Tuesday against Dundee United and in Sunday's league finale at Kilmarnock.
“Points can still be dropped, and we knew that possibility still existed, so it was an extra boost when [Celtic's] result came through on Wednesday,” Edu told Rangers' website. “It was an extra incentive, of course, but, regardless, we would approach all the games in the same manner, because if we don't win our games, then what happened elsewhere would be irrelevant.
“Them dropping points has given us the edge and put us back on top, so now it's up to us to go out there and secure another title. It's in our hands again, and we want to make sure that it's after the last game that we're celebrating.”
Edu has had his ups and downs this season, with form and injury, but has played in integral role in Rangers' campaign. He said that the team seemed to be “peaking at the right time.”
“The run in is so crucial, and now we're definitely showing a good level of confidence and consistency,” he said. “That's so important during this stretch of the season … We know what's at stake, having been in this position in the last two years, too. We have that little bit of experience, and I think that's helping us.”
TAYLOR TO THE RESCUE: Irvine's Matt Taylor netted his fourth multigoal game of the season to lead Rot Weiss Ahlen to a critical 4-3 triumph Saturday over Rot Weiss Erfurt that pulled it out of the German third division's relegation zone with one game to go.
Taylor scored in the 31st and 53rd minutes -- his 16th and 17th goals of the season -- to twice halve two-goal deficits. Manuel Eckel's 86th-minute strike provided the difference, pushing Rot Weiss (11-17-9, 39 points) to 17th place, two points above the drop. The club was endangered after a three-point penalty was assessed for violations of league finance rules.
Taylor and Co. finish the season Saturday at second-place Hansa Rostock, and Wacker Burghausen and Werder Bremen II remain in striking distance. Both have superior goal difference and face lesser foes in home games next weekend.
ANDERLECHT DONE? Defending Belgian champ RSC Anderlecht, with Huntington Beach's Sacha Kljestan, is on the verge of elimination from this season's Jupiler League race after a 1-0 loss to first-place Racing Genk.
Les Mauves started the six-club, 10-game playoff round in first place but have gone 2-3-2 and are six points back with three games to play. Failure to beat KAA Gent on Wednesday could finish them off; it's unlikely they'll survive beyond Saturday's clash at second-place Standard Liege, which sits three points off the lead.
ETC.: Pasadena's Yura Movsisyan returned to Russian side Krasnodar after missing six weeks with an injury, coming off the bench in the second half of a 2-1 loss at Rubin Kazan. … Former Galaxy forward Edson Buddle came off the bench to score the equalizer in Ingolstadt's 1-1 draw at 1860 Munich in the 2. Bundesliga. The goal was Buddle's third since joining the German club in January; Irvine's Bobby Wood was not available, because of injury, for 1860. … Santa Monica's Dallas Moore and St. Neots Town failed in their bid to win a third trophy, falling to Kempston Rovers in the Hinchingbrooke Cup final. The Saints were missing several starters to injury after claiming the United Counties League's Premier Division and Huntingdonshire Senior Cup titles. … Scottish businessman Craig Whyte completed a takeover of Rangers FC.
AREA PLAYERS IN EUROPE
D CARLOS BOCANEGRA (Alta Loma/UCLA)
Club: Saint-Etienne (France, Ligue 1)
Last week: 90 minutes at left back as Les Verts (12-10-12) climbed to eighth place with a 1-0 win Saturday at Arles
Season: 30 league games (30 starts) with 2 goals, 32 games (32 starts) with 2 goals in all competitions
Next: Tuesday vs. first-place Lille (18-4-12), Sunday vs. fifth-place Stade Rennes (14-10-10)
M MICHAEL BRADLEY (Manhattan Beach)
Club: Aston Villa (England, Premier League)
Last week: Did not play in Saturday's 1-1 draw vs. Wigan
Season: 2 games (1 start) in all competitions for Aston Villa; 22 games (20 starts) with 4 goals for Borussia Moenchengladbach (Germany)
Next: Sunday at third-place Arsenal (19-7-10)
M MAURICE EDU (Fontana)
Club: Rangers FC (Scotland, Premier League)
Last week: Started, played 71 minutes, with a yellow card, as the first-place Blues (28-5-3) won, 4-0, Saturday vs. Hearts
Season: 31 league games (25 starts) with 2 goals, 45 games (38 starts) with 5 goals in all competitions
Next: Tuesday vs. fourth-place Dundee United (16-10-10), Sunday at fifth-place Kilmarnock (13-14-9)
G BRAD FRIEDEL (Bay Village, Ohio/UCLA)
Club: Aston Villa (England, Premier Division)
Last week: 90 minutes with 1 save as the Villans (10-14-12) dropped to 14th with a 1-1 draw Saturday vs. Wigan
Season: 36 league games (36 starts), 59 goals allowed, 105 saves, 6 shutouts; 41 games (41 starts), 71 goals allowed, 124 saves, 6 shutouts in all competitions
Next: Sunday at third-place Arsenal (19-7-10)
M SACHA KLJESTAN (Huntington Beach)
Club: RSC Anderlecht (Belgium, Jupiler League)
Last week: 90 minutes, with a yellow card, as third-place Les Mauves (21-6-10) lost, 1-0, at first-place Racing Genk
Season: 22 league games (17 starts) with 2 goals, 30 games (25 starts) with 3 goals in all competitions
Next: Wednesday vs. fifth-place KAA Gent (17-10-10), Saturday at second-place Standard Liege (21-11-5)
D DALLAS MOORE (Santa Monica)
Club: St. Neots Town FC (England, UCL Premier Division)
Last week: 90 minutes in a 1-0 loss Friday to AFC Kempston Rovers in the Hinchingbrooke Cup final
Season: 4 cup games (4 starts), 19 games (19 starts) with 2 goals in all competitions for St. Neots Town; 13 games (13 starts) with 1 goal for Halesowen Town (England)
Next: Season over
F YURA MOVSISYAN (Pasadena/Pasadena City College)
Club: FC Krasnodar (Russia, Russian Premier League)
Last week: Returned from injury as the ninth-place Bulls (2-2-4) lost, 2-1, Sunday at Rubin Kazan
Season: 3 league games (0 starts) with 1 goal, 4 games (0 starts) with 1 goal in all competitions for Krasnodar; 25 games (20 starts) with 14 goals for Randers (Denmark)
Next: Saturday vs. 11th-place Tom' Tomsk (2-3-3)
F MATT TAYLOR (Irvine/UCLA)
Club: Rot Weiss Ahlen (Germany, 3. Bundesliga)
Last week: 90 minutes, with goals in the 31st and 53rd minutes, as Rot Weiss (11-17-9) climbed to 17th with a 4-3 win Saturday vs. Rot Weiss Ahlen
Season: 29 league games (29 starts) with 17 goals, 30 games (30 starts) with 17 goals in all competitions
Next: Saturday at second-place Hansa Rostock (23-8-6)
F BOBBY WOOD (Irvine)
Club: TSV 1860 Munich (Germany, 2. Bundesliga)
Last week: Did not dress, because of an ankle injury, as the seventh-place Lions (14-9-10) drew, 1-1, Sunday vs. Ingolstadt
Season: 5 league games (0 starts), 23 games (14 starts) with 7 goals with all 1860 sides
Next: Sunday at 14th-place Paderborn 07 (9-15-9)