Scottish Premier League

Osbourne rues under-achievement

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Fri, 10 May 2013 16:33:00

Motherwell striker Henrik Ojamaa is suspended for their final SPL game at Fir Park this season, against Ross County.

The Estonian will miss the visit of Ross County on Sunday after being sent off in the 4-3 defeat against Inverness last weekend.

Otherwise, manager Stuart McCall has the luxury of a full squad to choose from, including SPFA player of the year Michael Higdon, who is in the squad despite his brush with the authorities earlier this week.

County have lost midfielder Rocco Quinn to a broken nose while Stuart Kettlewell and Mark Fotheringham have been added to Derek Adams' squad.

Earlier in the week Sam Morrow left the club and County are understood to be running the rule over a number of new recruits, including Moldovan international defender Petru Racu, who was recently on trail at Ipswich Town.

County's slim hopes of bringing European football to Dingwall next season could be over by the time this match kicks off, as Adams conceded.

"It is not in our hands," he said."All we can do is watch Saturday's results and take it from there. The European challenge might be over by the time we play.

"Dundee United have to win at Caley Thistle and St Johnstone have to lose against Celtic. It will become clearer before we go into Sunday's game."

The former Sheffield United and Rotherham midfielder has attracted interest from Rangers and other clubs, and McCall has now confirmed he will move on this summer after two years at the club.

McCall said: "Nicky Law will move on. I didn't think I would be able to get him to come to Scotland because he had really good offers financially in England, but he came. We have had offers and we rejected them.

"He has loved his football and loved his time. When Nicky moves on he will go with our best wishes because he has been a joy to coach and given great moments to the supporters."

Law will join Darren Randolph in exiting, with the goalkeeper expected to sign for Birmingham.

McCall said: "He has not signed a pre-contract at Birmingham. I know there is interest there, as there is from a lot of clubs.

"He has been an outstanding servant and he certainly deserves his move. We will all miss Darren and he will go with everyone's best wishes because he is a model pro."

McCall has not given up hope of re-signing Michael Higdon and he does not expect the PFA Scotland player of the year to move to another Scottish club. But he has potentially lucrative options elsewhere.

McCall said: "He has loved his time here. He has different agents putting stuff in his head. It's all maybes.

"And Michael is new to that. He had a really good agent and unfortunately his agent has gone to a job in a club and can no longer be his agent. So I think he has got a lot of people trying to get him a deal and that has probably mixed his head up.

"We have given him our best offer, which is a good offer, and he appreciates that. But when you have got four or five agents telling you he can treble or quadruple it, then you have got to listen. But it comes to a stage where you have got to make a decision."

The striker was arrested on suspicion of assault hours after collecting his award on Sunday night but was not charged, and McCall hopes the focus will now be on his achievement.

McCall said: "First and foremost he was absolutely humbled to win the award and it's an award you don't actually know you're getting until it's read out.

"I think emotion-wise, and drinking all the coffee and shandy that he had, obviously didn't help.

"He was slightly embarrassed the day after because of events later on, which nobody really knows the full story of what happened.

"He felt he had let a few people down but he had been there with his family, his dad, his brother-in-law and friends, and it was a real emotional night for him.

"When that blows over, which hopefully it has done now, he has still been player of the season and he was voted that by the players, and he is very proud of that.

"We have all been in scrapes before and you learn from it. He is certainly not a night-clubber, he doesn't go out partying. He maybe just got caught up in something which he shouldn't have done but I think the majority of us have been there.

"Unfortunately he spent a night (in the cells) sobering up. But it's over now and he is looking forward to the last few games and hopefully scoring a few more goals."

Meanwhile, McCall did not rule out the possibility of James McFadden extending his short-term deal.

"I think James will wait and look at his options," McCall said.

"He has been linked with Celtic and will wait to see what's happening there. There is no definite that he won't be staying but it's certainly no definite that he will."

McFadden himself is waiting until the season ends before focusing on his future, with Motherwell still to wrap up second place in the Clydesdale Bank Premier League ahead of Sunday's visit of Ross County.

The 30-year-old said: "I've not got anything to decide. I will play the two games and see what happens after that.

"I've not had any offers. I would consider (an offer from Motherwell) but I need to get the season finished and enjoy the summer and see what happens.

"I've not got any expectations or aims on where I want to be. The main aim was to come back and play games every week, get to the end of the season and take it from there.

"I've got my family here and it would be nice to be based here but that's my job, I play football, and you could be moving away somewhere you never expected."

McCall has players lined up should more of his out-of-contract players depart.

"I have had lots of people saying they would like to come here," he said.

"But until we get feedback from our current players we can't really say yes to them."

Ferguson's 27-year reign, which will end in retirement this summer, has delivered 13 league titles to Old Trafford.

Their success this season was their 20th, taking them further past Liverpool's previous record of 18 and achieving the Scot's primary aim all those years ago of 'knocking Liverpool off their perch'.

But with Ferguson out of the picture and David Moyes, who as Everton manager failed to record a league victory at United, Anfield, Manchester City or Arsenal in 11 years, taking over there is a sense there may be a dip in the Red Devils' success.

And while Rodgers would not predict what effect Moyes would have he wants his side to be in a position to take advantage should United - or any of their closest rivals - experience a drop-off.

"It (United) has been a machine which has been working for over 25 years," said the Reds boss.

"Sir Alex has really put his identity on the club and that has led to success.

"It will take David time to go in and assess everything but it is a club as stable as any in the world and it is ready-made for him.

"There is no doubt he (Ferguson) will be a big miss there because he has been there so many years and been part of the furniture, making the club what it is today.

"But (how they react to the change) is up to the rest of the clubs.

"The spending powers of the teams up there will always make it close.

"I can only think of Liverpool - I've a big enough job here to get us moving on but I think next year we can do that.

"My focus is to try to close the gap. We are bridging that gap slowly this year but hopefully we will take a bigger stride next year.

"But the reality is very simple: we are 30 points behind the leaders and 12 points behind fourth place so we have a lot of work to do here.

"We know it is a long road but we don't like being second-best and being behind.

"We don't start the season aiming to finish fourth. The aim is always to win the title.

"A club of this status that is the ultimate objective - but you have to be realistic."

Progress has been made in Rodgers' first season in charge but his team are still too inconsistent to sustain a top-four challenge.

He admits they were never likely to make the leap back into Champions League qualification immediately after his arrival but having put systems of play and ways of operating behind the scenes he is more optimistic about next season.

Much will depend, however, on his success in the transfer market.

He will not have a massive amount at his disposal - probably about ?20million, which is what he spent on Daniel Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho in January, plus any cash generated from sales.

Then it is about picking the players who have the right qualities to for a top-four push.

"I am very hopeful with what I have seen with the (current squad's) mentality and it is our job in the summer to get the right types of characters to build that winning mentality and turn a lot of our draws into victories which I believe will push us into the top four next year," he added.

"It is where we want to be. The history of this club dictates that but this season was about putting that base in place.

"Young players have got an opportunity to play and I've seen development in the players but we are here to win.

"Next year can be a big year for us if we can add the right type of mentalities to the group and make sure we become more consistent next year.

"The realism is in the earlier part of the season we got two consecutive wins in the Premier League for the first time in over a year.

"That is something you have to put into perspective.

"My biggest aim was to try to improve the consistency of the group but if we are going to make the jump into the next phase we have to improve again.

"It is always the aim to finish top - every big club will go in with that ambition - but we know it is a process to arrive there.

"We are confident next year we can make those steps to keep the progress moving on."

Liverpool's friendly against Ajax Cape Town on May 21 has been cancelled after the South African Premier Soccer League ruled it could not be played during their season.

The 20-year-old Serb has made a big impression since joining the club from Fiorentina last summer.

He arrived expecting to have to wait for an opportunity but manager Roberto Mancini thrust him into the heat of a Champions League match at Real Madrid and was immediately vindicated.

Nastasic soon broke up the established title-winning centre-back partnership of Vincent Kompany and Joleon Lescott and has now started 30 games in all competitions.

Having been rested for the midweek Barclays Premier League win over West Brom, Nastasic now looks likely to start at Wembley in the FA Cup final against Wigan.

Nastasic said: "To be honest, it has been perfect for me.

"Obviously, I was expecting at least six months to create (a chance in the team) and be feeling the moment, but I am happy that I have already arrived at this level."

Nastasic has shown little sign of being overawed since his debut at the Bernabeu and feels he belongs at the top level.

He said: "To be honest it was an important game but it is more important now we play against all the big teams. We know this is a very big game and is very important for us and I am only looking forward.

"I know how important it is for the supporters and everyone at the club. We are all ready for it."

Following the last minute 2-1 defeat at home to Aston Villa and former manager Paul Lambert, the Norfolk club swiftly moved to cancel their end of season awards dinner set for Monday evening in a bid to focus all of their efforts on getting the required points to stay up.

Wigan's subsequent defeat at home to Swansea left the Canaries three points clear of the drop zone heading into the final two matches.

With a trip to Manchester City to round off the campaign, Hughton knows Sunday provides the perfect opportunity to put the situation beyond any reasonable doubt, with the Latics set to head to Champions League chasing Arsenal just 48 hours after their FA Cup final at Wembley.

"Turmoil is certainly the wrong word," said Hughton, who is expected to recall fit-again England goalkeeper John Ruddy

"We know we are playing in a very competitive division, there are clubs around us who are bigger than we are, with bigger budgets, and that is a reflection on how difficult this league is.

"It is certainly not turmoil, it is the ups and downs of the game.

"Is it a time of frustration? Yes, because we don't want to be in the position we are in.

"Is it an anxious time? Of course it is, but it is only us who can do something about it.

"We need to make sure that by the end of these two games that we have the required points."

After going unbeaten for 10 games at the end of 2012, Norwich have managed to win just twice in this year, a drastic dip in form which has seen them fall back into the battle for survival.

As a result, Hughton's squad has put in some extra training sessions at Carrow Road this week to fine tune preparations.

"For us it was very much about closing down the last game and the reasons why we did not get the results we wanted to get, then you concentrate on the next one," said Hughton.

"It is about making sure the mood among the players is good, and it has been from the disappointment of the last game.

"It can only be us who puts it right.

"There is no doubt the lads know what this game means, and how badly we want to win this game, so it wont be through lack of effort.

"It is about us getting the results we need, we don't know what the other results will be on Sunday, then also on next Tuesday or the last day of the season.

"We have to make sure it is very much in our hands.

"If we get the results we need, then you don't have to rely on any of the other results around you."

Ruddy, who won his first England cap last year, has not featured for the Canaries since the draw at Everton on November 24 after needing surgery on a torn muscle in his thigh.

However, after stepping up his rehabilitation last month with a couple of matches for the Under-21s side, Hughton indicated Ruddy was very much in contention this weekend.

"He is in my thoughts, but I have not selected a team yet," said Hughton, who dismissed out of hand reports linking midfielder Bradley Johnson with a summer move to Swansea.

"However with all the work we have done this week, John certainly comes into consideration."

The Pittodrie outfit currently sit top of the Clydesdale Bank Premier League's bottom six and can take a step towards confirming seventh place by beating St Mirren in Paisley on Saturday.

But Osbourne admits there is disappointment that Aberdeen did not make more of the talents at their disposal.

Niall McGinn has struck 20 league goals this season while the 14 goals conceded at home hints at a staunch defence that is matched only by SPL champions Celtic.

However, former boss Craig Brown stepped down and was replaced by Derek McInnes after the side failed to sneak into the top six, conceding a last-minute winner to Dundee United's Rory Boulding in their final game before the split.

Osbourne said: "It feels like the one that got away. Considering the squad we have got it's been a disappointing season.

"But then looking back on last season when we finished ninth, it's been a progression. I suppose we just need to hope we can build on that for next season."

But keeper Jamie Langfield believes Aberdeen could have been pushing for a European slot had it not been for a series of injuries that have blighted their campaign.

He said: "We had a full team out at one point this season. They were all guys who would have pushed for a place in this Aberdeen team.

"When I look back on this season, the likes of Inverness and Motherwell haven't really had any injuries. We have.

"But we are not going to let that get us down. We will work hard and come back and give it a right go next season."

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