Scottish Premier League

Lennon laments Hearts saga

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Fri, 17 May 2013 17:46:00

Aberdeen will be without Russell Anderson and Ryan Jack for their final Clydesdale Bank Premier League game of the season at home to Hearts on Saturday.

Jack has picked up a knock while the club will not risk Anderson, because he has a tight hamstring and is also one booking away from a suspension.

Rory Fallon and Peter Pawlett will be absent as well because they are serving bans at the moment.

Hearts manager Gary Locke is contemplating giving injured skipper Marius Zaliukas a short run-out.

The Lithuanian defender is close to fitness after an ankle problem and, as he is out of contract in the summer, he may be given the chance to wave goodbye to the travelling supporters.

Defenders Darren Barr and Brad Mackay are rated doubtful for the Pittodrie encounter.

The summit of all 30 clubs - including associate members Rangers, who do not have a vote - backed plans for a 42-club merger with the Scottish Premier League.

The discussions followed agreement by SPL clubs over revised plans, which would include a merged organisation, a 12-10-10-10 structure and top-flight play-offs.

The SFL will propose a different distribution model, which recognises the importance of the Second and Third Division clubs but will not involve the SPL giving up more money.

They have also put a different governance model to the SPL ahead of their meeting on Monday.

SFL clubs would likely be given 14 days notice of a formal vote on league reconstruction, with no date set as yet.

Chief executive David Longmuir said: "We are most definitely willing to continue with a 42-club solution to the league reconstruction process.

"We are going to work hard to bring this to fruition as quickly as we possibly can in the hope that what we deliver benefits the whole game in Scotland.

"There are a number of things that we got unanimity on today. We are going to initiate a process of due diligence to ensure we get to a place where we have a proper health check on any merged organisation to ensure there are no surprises.

"We agreed that the recommended financial distribution model that the SFL put to the SPL this week is going to take us forward and we got unanimous agreement that that was the will of the clubs.

"I know Neil Doncaster is putting it to his clubs on Monday and I hope that they look upon it as being a fair and appropriate way to spread what wealth we've got in the game.

"On governance, the initial governance model that was proposed, and seems still to be the favoured governance model, is not one that we wish to pursue.

"The governance model that the clubs, in unanimous fashion agreed to support, was the one that I previously put to the SPL, which is a 3-1-1-1 governance model, as opposed to a 3-2-1 governance model.

"This is a marvellous opportunity for everybody to get behind it. We are not far away."

The Northern Ireland international, who achieved a clean sweep of the Baggies' player-of-the-year awards, has put pen to paper on a new and improved two-year deal.

McAuley, 33, joined West Brom in the summer of 2011 and has formed an impressive partnership with Jonas Olsson in the centre of defence.

Manager Steve Clarke said: "I'm absolutely delighted the deal has been done.

"The fact Gareth has signed it tells you it is a good deal for him - and it is certainly a good deal for the club. He's been a standout performer this season and deserves every reward he gets.

"Gareth's important to the dressing room. I've mentioned a number of times how strong the dressing room is and how we have a lot of good characters in the dressing room. Gareth is one of those.

"He's important to the club and squad - both on and off the pitch."

McAuley and the Baggies will now hope to cap a season in which they have never dropped out of the top 10 with a strong performance against Premier League champions Manchester United on Sunday.

The 32-year-old is leaving Brunton Park after 12 years and Shiels is close to a deal.

The Kilmarnock manager, who is also aiming to sign goalkeeper Craig Samson from Saturday's opponents St Mirren, said: "We have Peter Murphy from Carlisle. I am confident we can cross the line with that one.

"He is an experienced left centre-back who has over 400 games for Carlisle behind him.

"He is a top player. He fits our needs and he has the quality as well."

If he completes his deal, Murphy will be able to help nurture 19-year-old centre-back Lee Ashcroft, who made his debut for Killie in last weekend's 3-2 win over Dundee.

The teenager followed that by signing a new three-year contract and then scored on his first start on Wednesday in the 3-1 defeat by Hibernian.

Ashcroft said: "First of all I was absolutely delighted at getting offered my new contract and to get my first start the other night was absolutely amazing.

"It was the best experience of my life. I was obviously a bit gutted about the result. When I got my goal to make it 1-1 I thought we had a chance to go on and win it.

"To lose the game so late was a bit disappointing but we will learn from the mistakes and hopefully improve on that."

Ashcroft, who is in his third season at Rugby Park, is encouraged by Shiels' attitude to promoting from the youth ranks.

"He has been at all the under-20s games this season and we had a great team," the defender said.

"We have done really well, unfortunately we lost in the semi-final of the cup, but we have an excellent team and the gaffer has given all of us a chance.

"When you step up to the first-team training there is more intensity.

"But you work hard and you enjoy it playing with experienced players. If you make a mistake they will tell you what you have done wrong.

"It's a great experience playing with people who have been in the game for a lot of years."

One of those players is former Rangers striker Kris Boyd, who has been passing on tips in training.

"It's brilliant because when I was younger I used to watch him on telly," Ashcroft said.

"It's a great experience. When you see his movement you know what you are going to come up against when you play a game.

"It's excellent because he helps you as well. If he makes a run he will tell you to watch what he's doing."

Kilmarnock later announced that another 19-year-old, striker Ross Davidson, had followed Ashcroft in signing a three-year deal.

It has been reported that a pig's head was left in Kenwyne Jones' locker, and that the striker was furious on discovering it.

The Daily Telegraph website reported Jones smashed the windscreen of team-mate Glenn Whelan's car in retribution, believing he was responsible.

Stoke said in a statement: "The club takes seriously reports of an incident at our training ground this afternoon.

"A full internal investigation will be carried out and those responsible for

any unacceptable behaviour will be dealt with in accordance with the club's

disciplinary procedures.''

Fears that the Gorgie club could be relegated grew after majority shareholder UBIG, a Lithuanian investment firm, was on Thursday listed on a government website of insolvent firms after reportedly declaring itself unable to meet its liabilities.

If deemed to fall foul of the SPL's insolvency rules, Hearts would be deducted a third of last season's total - 18 points - which would see them in the Irn-Bru First Division next season.

A decision which will be taken when the SPL board meet on Monday.

Ahead of the last SPL game of the season against Dundee United at Tannadice on Sunday, the Hoops boss examined the possible demise of the Tynecastle club with the experience of rivals Rangers, who emerged in the Irn-Bru Third Division last season after their descent into liquidation, in mind.

"We would be losing probably the third biggest club," he said.

"We have already lost the second biggest so it doesn't look good.

"It is a pretty sad situation. It is a great club with a great tradition and this time last year they were in a cup final.

"I don't know, the powers-that-be will maybe have contingency plans in place

"I don't know if another club will be promoted, Morton maybe, I don't know.

"I only became of aware of the serious nature of it late last night.

"I don't have a crystal ball, I don't know what sort of damage it will do to the SPL, but there will be an outcry.

"Hearts have a decent support for a club in Scotland and to lose that would be pretty damaging."

Lennon expressed his sympathy for his Jambos counterpart Gary Locke, who was only made permanent manager in March.

"It seems to have been going on for quite a while," said the Northern Irishman.

"This time last year the players weren't getting their money, but they kept on going and showed tremendous loyalty to Hearts.

"They went on to win some silverware and now they find themselves in probably a worse situation than ever and Gary has been thrown in at the deep end.

"I don't know if he will be aware of everything going on but knowing his character, I'm sure he will see it through okay."

Asked if the situation could affect Lennon bringing players to the club in the summer, Lennon said: "I don't think it helps.

"I am not sure many players look at other clubs in Scotland.

"When they are coming here they look at what we can offer them in terms of you are going to play in a championship (winning) team and you are going to play in the Champions League and you have the chance of winning silverware and I think that preoccupies their mind more than anything else."

Lennon, was coy when asked about his own future with the SPL champions.

The former Celtic skipper, who has been linked with Everton and Stoke City, revealed he is soon to speak to the Hoops board about a new contract.

He said: "It's not being confirmed yet but I am hoping to do that over the next week or so.

"These negotiations are private and that is between me and the board so I am not going to talk publicly about that."

The Celtic manager confirmed he has taken South African midfielder Daylon Claasen is on trial.

The 23-year-old was contracted to Belgian side Lierse before being released last month.

Lennon said: "He was at Lierse and at Everton recently. He also had a week in Germany and then a week with us.

"There will be no more coming in between now and the end of the season.

"Next week is all about the squad that we have and preparing for the cup final."

Lennon is looking forward to taking on a United side whom they beat 4-3 in extra-time in the William Hill Scottish Cup semi-final at Hampden last month.

He said: "It is always a good atmosphere, we always take a sizeable away support and if it is anything like the semi-final it should be an open game.

"We are giving it our full focus, we are looking to replicate last week's performance against St Johnstone and that should put us in good condition for the cup final next week."

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