Scottish Premier League

NL enjoying 'fantastic' season

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Fri, 22 Feb 2013 17:50:00

Bristol City defender Matthew Bates has signed a new deal to keep him at Ashton Gate until the end of the season.

The 26-year-old had been out of contract since the middle of January, having originally joined the club in mid-November.

The former Middlesbrough man played eight times under previous manager Derek McInnes and, after the Scot's departure, new head coach Sean O'Driscoll had to wait a couple of weeks to assess Bates fully due to an illness picked up by the centre-back.

City have also announced that development players Kevin Krans and Luke Dobie have signed new 18-month contracts.

The duo, who joined in the summer, have both have impressed academy coaching staff suitably to earn extended terms at Ashton Gate.

United secured their third win in four games under McNamara when they won 1-0 at Motherwell on Tuesday night after Gary Mackay-Steven set up Johnny Russell for the only goal on the counter-attack.

The pair and Stuart Armstrong, all Scotland Under-21 internationals, stretched Motherwell a number of times on the break in the second half and only the brilliance of Motherwell goalkeeper kept his side in the game before James McFadden's 73rd-minute introduction.

McNamara said: "There is a lot of ability here and it's just getting them to believe how good they are.

"I think some of the younger ones don't realise how good they are. There are some fantastic talents.

"For me, the other night, the forward line we had were the three most exciting players we have in the country.

"People were talking about McFadden coming back to Motherwell. When I look at our front three - Armstrong, Russell and GMS - it's exciting not just for Dundee United but for Scottish football."

United host Hibernian on Sunday and McNamara is confident they will create chances, having scored nine goals since he took over from Peter Houston.

But it is the defensive aspect of the game that he believes will be key after following their 6-2 defeat at Celtic Park with a resolute performance at Fir Park to restrict the home side to few chances despite sustained pressure.

"We have created a lot of chances in every game since I have been here," the former Partick Thistle boss said.

"We just have to defend well as a team, help each other and pass the ball properly.

"If we defend well in any game, we can score goals and hurt any teams in this league.

"Not many teams go to Celtic Park and score two and create the number of chances we did.

"Although it was a hefty defeat, I took positives from that. Obviously I took the negative side of it in the defending, which for me is preventable."

The former Scotland international added: "It comes down to responsibility - wee things in the game, we always say it's a thin line.

"We scored a great goal (at Celtic Park) and because we had not switched on after scoring we lost a corner which we shouldn't have done.

"We didn't pick up properly at the corner and suddenly the whole game has changed, instead of keeping the ball for 10 or 15 minutes and maybe getting another chance to score.

"It's wee things that we will get used to and hopefully learn."

Meanwhile, McNamara is set to step up his assessment of 23-year-old Swedish defender Marcus Tornstrand.

"We have still got the trialist with us training," he said. "We have a closed doors game against Limerick tomorrow and we will have a wee look at him and make a decision on him."

The Highlanders' impressive mid-season form took them to the heady heights of second place behind Celtic, but Terry Butcher's side have drawn just one of their last six games and were leapfrogged by Motherwell with a 3-0 defeat by the Steelmen at Fir Park last week.

Ahead of Saturday's game against Hearts at Tynecastle, Wales international Tudur Jones, aware that only 11 points separate Well from second-bottom, said: "We could finish anywhere in the league, apart from top or bottom, there is no question of that.

"The team hasn't changed that much. If you take the Motherwell game out of it we have been playing pretty good on the whole, and because of how well we have done for the majority of the season it almost gave us the cushion for when this little spell came.

"We were obviously hoping it didn't come but it has.

"However, we are still above most of the teams but this run can't carry on or else teams will start to pass us, as Motherwell did last week.

"But we are fine, we are feeling good and confident and ready to go again.

"The team hasn't changed over the last two months, only one or two, and we have a lot of faith in each other.

"We are stepping out on the pitch and feeling really comfortable with our team-mates and thinking we can score goals and win games.

"It hasn't been the case recently but, Celtic apart, everyone else is inconsistent and the league is bunched. So it makes for a very interesting end to the season.

"We are playing against sides before the split who haven't beaten us this season so that gives us bit of a boost.

"It is only Celtic, Motherwell and St Mirren who have beaten us in the league, so we will take a lot of heart in that record and do all we can to make sure it continues."

The former Swansea and Norwich midfielder has only scored two goals this season, opening his Caley account with a thunderous strike against Hearts in a 1-1 home draw in November before coming up with another thunderbolt in the 4-1 home win over Dundee in December.

He admits he has to be wary of the encouragement of the fans to shoot any time he takes possession.

Tudur Jones said: "Yes, sometimes I have to calm myself down or I will be shooting from 50 yards and losing the ball over the stands. It's about picking the right times.

"I would probably have liked to have one or two more goals this season.

"In and around Christmas I was striking the ball well and there were a couple of good saves by keepers and stuff like that, but there are more games to go and more opportunities to get myself on the score sheet.

"All three (previous games against Hearts) have been the same in terms of Hearts have played the prettier football, but we have created the better chances. So it really does make for an interesting game."

Speaking ahead of Saturday's tie with Accrington, Yates said that the Robins must return to form in their final 13 games if they are to move up the table.

Cheltenham ended 2012 in the automatic promotion places, but a run of just two wins since the turn of the year has seen them slip down to fifth and a victory against struggling Stanley will go a long way to putting things right for Yates.

"We've got 13 games to go and this is the next one," he told the club's official website.

"It's the most important one because it's the only one we can deal with, the only one we can try and get three points from. You can do all the planning you like but it's always the next game that is the most important.

"I understand peoples frustrations but there's no point worrying about what's gone on, you have to deal with what's ahead of you.

"We've got 13 games to go, 39 points to play for and we'll get as many of those as quickly as we can."

The Hoops are 19 points clear of Motherwell at the top of the SPL standings and on course to clinch the championship next month.

However, aside from European nights during their exciting journey to the last-16 of the Champions League, in which they play Juventus in Turin next month trying to recover a 3-0 first-leg defeat, Celtic Park has rarely been full this season.

The absence of a league challenge from traditional rivals Rangers, now playing in the Third Division, has had an effect on attendances and ahead of the visit of bottom side Dundee on Sunday, Lennon was asked about the prospect of crowds dwindling further as the Hoops disappear over the SPL horizon.

The Celtic boss, who reiterated that the first-half performance in the 1-1 draw against St Johnstone at McDiarmid Park on Tuesday night was the best in all his time as manager, said: "Everyone was doom and gloom at the start of the season but it has been a fantastic season for us.

"We have proved all the doom-mongers wrong and there is a lot of negativity in this country, a lot of it, it is overwhelming sometimes.

"Even when you are doing well....you are so far ahead and it is a one-horse race.

"I can't do anything about it. The reality of my job is to win, develop the players, develop the team and keep it progressing.

"Why would it be a worry for me when we are 19 points clear?

"There is nothing I can do about that (fans stopping coming), do you want me to stop winning and let the gap close a little bit and make it more exciting?

"Bayern Munich are 15 points clear in their league, Man United are 12 points clear in their league so why is it just exclusive to us?

"Gates are down all over Europe, there is a recession on and a lot of people are feeling the pinch," added Lennon, who is grateful for the backing his side have received from their fans.

"We have a great support and we have had since my time here and before that," he said.

"We had a great support in Perth the other night and they sang the whole way through the game and the home games this season, particularly since the turn of the year, have been excellent.

"I thought the fans against Dundee United last week were superb, they stayed with the team the whole way through and I expect it to be no different on Sunday.

"I don't have a crystal ball and I don't know what next season is going to bring so if crowds are down then we will do our best to bring them back.

"My motivation is to keep winning, keep improving the players and making the club better on and off the field.

"Although I don't really have a lot to do with what goes on off the field, I can affect the squad, results, recruitment, development of players and that in itself is a huge challenge.

"I think we have come a long way since 2010 and I think that gets overlooked sometimes.

"We have huge assets at the club which we never had before, we are still in the last-16 of the Champions League and well clear in the league. so what more can we do?"

The former Celtic skipper admitted sympathy for former Dundee manager Barry Smith who departed the Dens Park club on Wednesday.

He said: "He had a monster task on his hands because he was really recruiting for Division One and then he had to prepare for the SPL.

"So it is has been a difficult ride for him. I was surprised that they sacked him but again, that is Dundee's business.

"I don't know what goes on behind the scenes there but from the outside it looks harsh."

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