Scottish Premier League

Lomas has no problem with Celtic

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Fri, 03 May 2013 19:12:00

Sir Alex Ferguson believes Rio Ferdinand has enjoyed the best season of his Manchester United career.

The 34-year-old defender has shrugged off the injury problems of the past to feature in 26 league games for the 2012/13 title winners and has earned the praise of his manager.

"Rio Ferdinand has had his best ever season at the club," Ferguson told MUTV. "We have had continual problems with the centre-backs being fit.

"Nemanja Vidic has missed half a season, Chris Smalling has missed most of the season, Phil Jones missed a good bit and Jonny Evans missed parts. But Rio has managed his situation very well.

"Although we have left him out of certain games because we have managed him the right way, at the most important times he has been there."

Ferdinand is widely expected to agree a new deal at Old Trafford shortly and Ferguson is confident the former West Ham centre-back will remain with the club.

"I don't think there is any reason to think differently," added Ferguson. "I hope he will stay and I think he will too."

Griffiths' off-field problems are well documented but, with boss Fenlon's careful guidance, he has been able to place his personal woes to one side and put himself on the verge of breaking a 40 year-old Hibs hoodoo.

No Easter Road player has scored 30 goals since Alan Gordon and Jimmy O'Rourke both did so in season 1972/73 but Griffiths is now just three away with four games to play.

The Cheque Centre PFA Scotland Player and Young Player of the Year nominee will hope to take a step towards that tally on Sunday when his side travel to Rugby Park to face Kilmarnock.

But he will also hope to keep some of his goals back for the William Hill Scottish Cup final meeting with Celtic on May 26, where the Easter Road side will aim to unpick another long-standing jinx - their 111-year wait for the trophy.

The on-loan Wolves striker - who is set to return south this summer after 18-months on loan at the club he supported as a boy - is especially keen to sign off with a cup success so it will cement his mentor Fenlon's place in Leith folklore.

Griffiths said: "The manager has really helped me this season. We've had talks in training, wee meetings here and there, just to find out what's been going on.

"If I'm being down or not really talkative in training, he will try and find out why. I just go into training, keep my head down and then go away and spend as much time as I can with my kids."

Asked if he owed Fenlon a debt of gratitude for helping to reignite a career that had been dampened following his 2011 move to Molinuex, the striker said: "Yeah I do. I've said it before, the gaffer has been like a father figure to me, especially this season, and we have seen the rewards he has got for his faith in me.

"I've scored 27 goals this season and hopefully I can get a few more. I've got the chance to be the man to fire Hibs to Scottish Cup glory and to make the manager a legend here.

"If I'm not going to be here next year, then what a way to bow out by winning the Scottish Cup. I meet fans when I'm out and they keep reminding me how long it's been since we won it. As a Hibs fans, I know more than anyone how happy we could make them if we were to do it.

"It's been the best year of my career so far. My target was 20 goals because the most I'd ever scored was 21 with Dundee in the First Division.

"So to score 27 in the SPL, which is a lot tougher league, is great. But I'm not done yet and I want to reach that 30-goal tally. If I do it, the manager will have played a huge part in that."

But Griffiths bristled at the suggestion his side would have fared a lot worse without him.

The Edinburgh club sat top of the SPL in November but have tasted just one league victory since the turn of the year to leave them outside of the top six in ninth place.

With seventh-place still in their sights, however, Griffiths believes he and his team-mates can still prove their qualities in their three remaining games of the season.

"Teams go through bad spells," he said. "Thankfully I went through my bad spell when the team was doing well and Eoin Doyle was scoring a few goals.

"People who say Hibs are a one-man team are getting a wee bit carried away. Yeah I've scored a few goals this season but the team at the start of the season was doing really well.

"We haven't done so great in the last few games but hopefully we can pick that up with four games to go."

The Perth side's win over Inverness last week has put them right in the mix for a Europa League qualification slot, with the Highlanders, Lomas' team and Ross County now set for a three-way fight for third place.

Just two points separate the three teams but Hoops boss Neil Lennon says he is ready to forgo SPL points in favour of keeping his men fresh for the William Hill Scottish Cup final with Hibernian on May 26, starting with Sunday's meeting against the Staggies.

That could boost County's European ambitions but Lomas insists he will not grumble about Celtic resting players.

The Northern Irishman, whose side face Dundee United on Saturday, said: "I'll just look after my own house. It's hard enough managing one club. Neil is perfectly within his rights to do what he feels is best for Celtic Football Club.

"We are just going to deal with our side of things. If we can get a result tomorrow, it will be a massive boost.

"Every game is a cup final for us now and for numerous reasons - for qualifying for Europe, for prize money, for re-signing boys. For the lads to be in the mix to qualify for Europe for the second season running is a huge achievement."

Another European jaunt would strengthen Lomas' hand when it comes to contract negotiations but the McDiarmid manager has acted early to sign up midfield duo Chris Millar and Liam Caddis on new deals.

Millar, who moved from Morton in 2008, has agreed a two-year extension, while 19-year-old prospect Caddis has been tied down for an extra 12 months.

"We want to get the ones signed up that we can," said Lomas. "Chris has been a good servant to the club and he's done a good job for us so we are delighted to get him signed up for two years.

"As for Liam, we're hoping he can make the breakthrough next season. He's been knocking on the door for quite a while but because we have been winning, he's found it hard to get in."

Striker Nigel Hasselbaink has another year on his deal but claimed last week he may have to move on in the summer after making just 11 starts for the Perth side this term.

Lomas, though, suggested he is keen to keep hold of the former Hamilton and St Mirren attacker.

"I've explained to Nigel where we are at," he said.

"He's got another year but the problem for Nigel is that the boys in the team are doing well and making it difficult for him to get a start. But he's not a far away. He can count himself unlucky not to have had more starts but it's a squad game."

The PFA Scotland team of the year was announced this week but the 11 players chosen by Scotland's professionals had no room for any of St Johnstone's players.

"I wouldn't mind that team for next year," said Lomas as he refused to disagree with the selection.

"A few of our players have had a consistent season but I wouldn't argue with any of those boys in that PFA team. They are all good players and have had good seasons.

"We have had a lot of good performers and obviously, you don't challenge for third place without having a good team. So the good thing for me is that we have had a real squad effort this year."

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