Football: Dons can boost Hegarty's claim

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ABERDEEN LOOK to strengthen the claims of their stand-in manager, Paul Hegarty, for the job on a permanent basis with victory over Motherwell tonight.

The Dons have been transformed since the former Dundee United defender took charge following Alex Miller's departure and have reeled off three straight wins to climb away from the Scottish Premier League basement.

A fourth successive three-point haul at Pittodrie would be the first time any Aberdeen side had managed the feat for more than six years. Such a result would also see the Dons leapfrog Motherwell into fifth place.

The Aberdeen chairman, Stewart Milne, yesterday repeated his assertion that the Pittodrie board would continue to weigh up their options, and that there had been "no shortage of applications" for the post. But, with the support of the dressing- room behind him, Hegarty is emerging as a front-line contender to be handed the reins at least until the end of the season.

"The directors have told me that they are happy, but like everyone else I am waiting to see how the situation evolves," he said. "The players have been magnificent for me and I would like to thank them regardless of what might happen from here.

"They knew they had to raise the standard of their own games and they have really applied themselves so far. They have dug deep and shown a determination and resilience that was probably not there in the past."

Hegarty will have defender Gary Smith available after suspension and will also have to decide whether to retain Derek Stillie in goal when veteran Jim Leighton recovers from the flu that kept him out of Saturday's 2-1 win at Dunfermline.

Stillie, a former Scotland Under-21 keeper, has played fewer than 20 games in eight seasons at the club and is ready to seek pastures new with his contract up in June. "I face a difficult decision in the new year and it will be decided by football matters, not financial," he said. "I am 25 now and I have to start playing first-team football on a regular basis. If it is clear that isn't going to happen I may have little option but to move on."

Motherwell, meanwhile, despite a radical improvement under Billy Davies, are still searching for a first away victory this season - a problem also facing Dunfermline in the other Premier League game tonight.

The Pars are in danger of becoming marooned at the bottom and desperately need to pick up points from their visit to St Johnstone and Saturday's home game with Hearts before the three-week winter shutdown. But they will face a Saints side whose progress this term can be measured by the response of their manager, Sandy Clark, to defeat at Ibrox on Saturday.

"It was frustrating and disappointing not to get anything from the Rangers game and I regarded it as three points dropped after the way things went," he said. "We didn't get any breaks, but I still feel we should have done more to earn them. We have to be confident enough to press home our advantage when we are on top."