Scottish Premier League

Lennon relishing Dons clash

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Fri, 16 Nov 2012 16:27:00

Henning Berg is keen for Blackburn to display the extra quality that turns performances into points, starting with this weekend's trip to face Championship strugglers Peterborough.

Former Rovers defender Berg is searching for his first win as Rovers manager at the third time of asking, despite leading in both of the back-to-back draws against Huddersfield and Birmingham.

"I think in the last two games we've played better than the results we have got," he said.

"The Palace game was a different story. Palace were by far the better team than us and we learned a lesson on that day I hope.

"It looks as though we did learn. The Huddersfield game and the Birmingham game in terms of performance were good and we just lacked that little extra quality."

The 30 SFL clubs voted unanimously earlier this week to pursue a proposal which would see a switch to a three-tier 16-10-16 league structure.

Scottish Premier League clubs have not yet been involved in talks and McCoist acknowledged potential problems in reaching an agreement across the board, but believes the SFL plans are worth consideration.

He said: "I saw the idea being put forward by the SFL for 16-10-16 and I actually think that looks all right.

"I've been away down south so I've not had a chance to have a good look at it but my initial reaction would be positive.

"The majority of people realise that something has to be done to help the Scottish game moving forward and I think the SFL proposal is certainly worth looking at.

"It has to be done for the benefit of the game and all the clubs within the Scottish game.

"I don't think we are going to get total agreement with all the clubs, that's for certain.

"We, as a club, do welcome change because nobody has had any more change than us in the past eight months.

"Anything that benefits the game, we would certainly welcome. Change, in my opinion, is required and I think it will happen."

Rangers are currently plying their trade in the Third Division after being consigned to liquidation in the summer.

Asked if he believes the proposals could result in a quicker than anticipated return to the top flight for the Light Blues, McCoist said: "We will just have to react to what happens.

"We are planning for SFL3, SFL2, SFL1 and gradually working our way back up to the top league. That's the way we have to plan."

As well as backing a change in league structure, McCoist also believes Scottish football has too many football authorities.

He said: "With the SPL, SFL, SFA there are an awful lot of bodies to be honest.

"I don't think we are a big enough nation to require that. I would certainly like one body running the SPL and the SFL.

"That's only my own opinion. If we had one body running the football side of things, I would be all for that."

McCoist is also open to the idea of Rangers participating in a European regional league in the future.

The issue was discussed at Celtic's annual general meeting on Friday, where chief executive Peter Lawwell said he believes UEFA is coming round to the idea of expanding leagues beyond borders in a bid to reduce the disparity in European football.

McCoist, whose pre-match press conference was attended by representatives from the Dutch, French and Spanish media, said: "It's definitely something we would consider. You want to play at as high a level as you possibly can.

"I don't know what criteria that would involve further down the line if and when it happened.

"But I'd like to think people at this club would be available and ready for any eventuality.

"We would want to play in as high a league as we possibly could but we have to prepare for what we're faced with at the moment - and that's a gradual increase back into the top league."

Meanwhile, McCoist says he would have no problems with a wage cap being introduced at Rangers.

Reports this week claimed the club's owners want to restrict wages to 33% of turnover as part of share issue.

Speaking ahead of Saturday's game against East Stirling, McCoist said: "Over-spending in any business can be negligent and can be to the detriment of the business and our football club is no different.

"I would imagine I would have a budget to work within and I'm fine with that.

"It's important, having been down the road we have been down, that we don't go near that road again and that's the important thing.

"A lot of people will look at it from the negative point of view but it can only be positive in terms of the running of the club, which is the most important thing."

The 18-year-old attacker has joined the Imps on loan until January 2, 2013.

Bassele joined the Cherries at the beginning of the season after being released from his semi-professional contract at Hayes and Yeading.

He was immediately deployed in Chris Hargreaves' development squad and has made a number of appearances this term.

The teenager could be in line to make his debut for David Holdsworth's side in their clash with Hereford on Saturday at Sincil Bank.

The Dark Blues' last home fixture saw them finally pick up their first win of the season at Dens Park thanks to Matt Lockwood's free-kick, the only goal of the game against Hearts.

Now they have the chance to make it back-to-back wins on home soil against Edinburgh teams with Smith urging them to try and take inspiration from their recent encounter with the Tynecastle men.

He said: "We want to try and live up to what we did against Hearts recently.

"That was a really good performance that day as well as a result.

"It gave everyone a big boost as we got what we deserved after a run of frustrating results.

"Hibs are obviously on a good run at the moment and all credit to them for doing so.

"But we won't change anything and we'll attempt to get the three points as we always do in our games at Dens Park.

"The lads are on a decent run of form with four points from our last two matches so that is something we want to continue."

Smith, whose side drew at Motherwell last weekend, knows the SPL leaders will take a sizeable support from Edinburgh so wants the home fans to turn out in numbers and urge his side onto another win.

He said: "It's a great game to look forward to because they are top of the league and we're trying to cause an upset.

"From that point of view, the lads won't need any more incentive to get them going.

"There will be a good atmosphere which hopefully the lads will respond to from the start.

"Hibs will bring a good crowd through as they're on a high and it's one we're going into in a positive frame of mind rather than fearing it.

"We've had a good week's training all geared towards this match.

"I've always had faith in these players and they're beginning to show why that is the case with recent results.

"It was always going to be a difficult season but this is the kind of game we're all enjoying preparing for as it's what it's all about being back in the SPL."

Di Matteo insisted he bore no grudges over his controversial dismissal in February 2011, which has ended up working out spectacularly well both for the Baggies and him personally.

The Italian lost his job after a lengthy run of bad results, although he had just led them back into the Premier League at the first attempt and they were not even in the relegation zone.

However, replacement Roy Hodgson did turn their campaign around - ultimately earning him the England job - while Di Matteo's subsequent adventures are now the stuff of legend.

His astonishing Champions League and FA Cup triumphs with Chelsea last season led to him being appointed manager full time and gave him licence to be philosophical about his Hawthorns demise.

"Look at where I'm sitting now, so I'm not so sure it was a bad thing," said Di Matteo. "That's football. That's life.

"In a manager's career, you're going to get the sack at some point if you have a long career.

"It's happened to everybody in the industry, and it makes you stronger. It doesn't mean you're not a good coach or a good manager.

"There are many examples of good managers where it didn't work out with a club. They were successful before and were again after."

Asked if he held any grudges over his dismissal, he said: "No grudges, no. Not at all. I had a great time. I worked with a lot of good people there.

"The supporters were very kind to me as well. I had almost two years there.

"Despite the fact that last season's game was not a good memory, because we lost, I can reflect on good memories there."

The game Di Matteo mentioned saw West Brom seal his fate for a second time, but it worked in his favour that time as he was promoted from assistant manager at Chelsea to caretaker boss, with Andre Villas-Boas the fall guy.

Di Matteo said of the March upheaval: "That defeat led to a reaction. It was a very difficult time we found ourselves in.

"I was asked to fill in until the end of the season, and I was very pleased to help the club."

Di Matteo masterminded the greatest climax to a season in Chelsea's history but he could find himself under real pressure if they fail to win on Saturday after three league games without a victory.

"For us, every week and every game is a match that defines our path, really. Last week the game against Shakhtar [Donetsk] was a defining game," he said.

"This one now, in the league against West Brom, then the Champions League and Manchester City.

"Every game we play can define our season, and the games after too."

Lennon's team travel to the Granite City one point above Craig Brown's men, who have only lost once in the SPL since their late 1-0 defeat at Parkhead on the opening day.

The televised midday game has captured the imagination in the north east of Scotland with Aberdeen having the chance to leapfrog Celtic and leaders Hibernian and go top of the SPL, even if it might only be for a matter of hours.

Lennon grew up in an era when Alex Ferguson's Aberdeen dominated Scottish football.

"Obviously I remember that great Aberdeen team, and the highlight was the Cup Winners' Cup final against Real Madrid," the former Northern Ireland international said.

"I remember sitting in the house as a boy watching it and jumping up and down because it was a Scottish team that were doing it.

"They had a great manager who has gone on to unbelievable things in his career. Gordon Strachan, Mark McGhee, Eric Black, Alex McLeish, Willie Miller, Jim Leighton, I can rhyme the team off near enough.

"They were an exceptional team in exceptional times. I remember going to a (Scottish Cup) semi-final I think in '83, Celtic-Aberdeen, and Aberdeen won 1-0.

"I was only a boy and it was one of the first Celtic games I went to see."

After the collapse of Rangers, Celtic were generally expected to surge well ahead in the title race but they have faced a challenge at home from Aberdeen and Hibs, teams who have struggled in recent years, while exceeding expectations in the Champions League.

"I think it's very healthy for Aberdeen," Lennon said. "I'm sure there will be a really good crowd. They have recruited well in the summer.

"Craig's very shrewd and obviously with Archie [Knox, Brown's assistant] there they have great experience in the background. And they have been pretty consistent this season, which is something you can't throw at Aberdeen over the last few seasons.

"It will be a good atmosphere, you'll have two big clubs in Scotland going at it and we'll not be thinking about Benfica until two o'clock tomorrow afternoon.

"It's an important game for us. Our league form recently hasn't been great. It's not a major concern for me but it's a game where we can set a marker down."

Lennon had prepared a response to those criticising his side's SPL form, which has seen them pick up two points from three games and often struggle around the European fixtures.

"There are people casting aspersions and saying we are being complacent because there is no Rangers," he said.

"For some players tomorrow will be the 30th game of the season already in competitive games and internationals.

"I have done a bit of research. In Germany, Borussia Dortmund are 11 points behind, Ajax are nine points behind, Real Madrid are eight points behind.

"A lot of teams are struggling to compete in both. AC Milan are 17 points behind, Malaga and Valencia are double figures, Montpellier, the champions of France, double figures, Arsenal 11 points.

"We are two points behind with a game in hand. There are a lot of other clubs who aren't top of their respective leagues so we are there or thereabouts so that's why I don't think there should be too much negativity being thrown at us.

"We are not doing too badly considering the workload we have had."

Lennon will come up against a familiar opponent on Saturday in Niall McGinn, who has scored in seven consecutive SPL games after being converted from a winger to a central striker since his summer move from Celtic.

"He has done very well," Lennon said. "I think scoring the goal for Northern Ireland (against Portugal) gave him a huge shot of confidence and he has been a very consistent goalscorer in the games after that and he will obviously be a threat tomorrow.

"He has pace, he is far better running on to things than playing with his back to goal so he probably dovetails quite well with (Scott) Vernon.

"I have not really seen enough of Aberdeen to really comment on that but the fact they brought Jonny Hayes in and the emergence of the young lad (Ryan) Fraser, and they have good experience as well, so that is why they are up there challenging."

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