Scottish Premier League

McCall praise for PFA nominees

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Fri, 26 Apr 2013 18:00:00

Sunderland boss Paolo Di Canio says Monday night's showdown with fellow strugglers Aston Villa is their "Champions League final".

Victory at Villa Park on Monday night would establish a six-point gap between the Black Cats and Paul Lambert's men with three games of the season left.

Di Canio said: "If we win on Monday, we stay up. I have told my players, Monday is a Champions League final.

"Since the first day we joined together at the beginning of the week, I told them, 'Take this week as the most important week of the season because if we win on Monday, we stay up and we do it three games in advance.

"'It's probably not mathematical, but we would be very close, so it means that you are capable'.

"I told my players, 'When I came in here, we were nearly strangled - you have turned the season in three games here. You did that, you were capable of winning two in a row.

'If we win the next one, in three weeks, you have turned completely the season'."

The Black Cats were sliding towards relegation until Di Canio arrived but victories over Newcastle and Everton have given them breathing space.

Di Canio said: "It doesn't mean that now we have become a Champions League side, but victory at Villa would mean that with three games to go, we could finish in a good position.

"Obviously, it's step by step, but I told them, 'Think about Monday as a Champions League final, work as hard as you did in the last few weeks because there is a big opportunity to stay in this league with three games to go.

"'Enjoy the last three games and try to get the maximum points we can'. I went to St James' Park without any sort of worry - you can't imagine I would be worried at Villa Park, with all respect."

Celtic manager Neil Lennon Lennon described the outcome as a "smack in the face" for his team and argued none of the quartet, which includes Well's Michael Higdon as well as Leigh Griffiths, Andrew Shinnie and Niall McGinn, would get in his team.

McCall, though, believes the lack of Celtic players is down to their consistency across the team.

McCall, whose team host SPL champions Celtic on Sunday, said: "I think the four lads certainly merit it. They have all been fantastic for their clubs.

"When I managed to nick in there one year, I think it was (Ally) McCoist, (Andy) Goram and John Collins, and Coisty beat me by one vote. That's what I tell my kids anyway, and they still believe me.

"I used to vote for the people that had given me the hardest time that season, be it Paul McStay at Celtic, John Collins, Phil O'Donnell when he was here, Eoin Jess at Aberdeen. We certainly didn't go in a big group and vote.

"I can understand Celtic being disappointed that none of their players are in, but I wouldn't be able to pick which one, because they have had consistently good overall performances from a lot of players. And I think that's why it probably happened.

"If you look at Aberdeen, I'm sure Niall McGinn will win nearly every one of their player-of-the-years (awards), likewise Leigh Griffiths (at Hibernian), probably Michael Higdon here, maybe Lawsy (Nicky Law) pushing him.

"Up at Inverness it will be Andy Shinnie with probably Billy McKay pushing him.

"For their clubs they have been the best players. Whether they would get in Celtic's team is a different opinion and I understand that.

"But you can only vote for one person and I think the people in the top four have fully merited it because they have all had outstanding seasons."

Higdon's accolade is further proof of how far he has come since struggling to win over some Motherwell fans immediately after moving from St Mirren in the summer of 2011.

Now Motherwell face a battle to keep the 29-year-old as he assesses a contract offer from chief executive Leeann Dempster."We'll have to put a time limit on it but we'll go to the end of the season and see what happens," McCall said.

"Leeann has had initial talks with Michael and I know he enjoys his time here.

"But in the end money talks. In finance terms it would have to be a big offer to take him away. He will be one of our top-paid players, but it's not always about money, and he knows that.

"It's about being loved where you are and enjoying it and having security and coming to work with a smile on your face, and he is certainly doing that."

Motherwell are looking to repeat their 2-1 win over Celtic in February, which heralded the start of their current seven-match unbeaten run.

"It will count for nothing once the game gets under way but beforehand, because we know we beat them the last time and because we have been on such a good run of form, confidence is high," McCall said.

"But they also know they will get nothing unless they work extremely hard like they have been doing.

"And hopefully show their quality again because we have had some outstanding games this season, some real high-scoring games, and they have been a pleasure to watch.

"We just want to keep on track for second place, which is the aim now."

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