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Lennon happy to cross border for British cup competition

Neil Lennon, the Celtic manager, would welcome the creation of a British League Cup, which could be on the agenda for the Scottish Premier League if plans for a major shake-up of the game in Scotland go ahead.

Lennon, who enjoyed Uefa Cup success against English teams when he was a Parkhead player, says recent games south of the border have whetted his appetite for more, although he is uncertain whether such a tournament would pave the way for the Old Firm to move into English competition.

"It is quite exciting," Lennon said yesterday of the British League Cup concept, which was floated at a meeting of SPL clubs on Monday. "I quite like the prospect of that and if it comes off then it will be great for us and the supporters.

"It could be one step in the right direction [of a move south] but there was a unanimous vote from Premier League chairmen against us coming down the road. But it is innovative and if it comes off we welcome it.

"I think it would be great for the game and for the British game as well. When I played and we went to Blackburn and Liverpool and even pre-season games with Manchester United, Tottenham and Fulham, the atmosphere was fantastic.

"It was a great spectacle at the Emirates in pre-season and I think that our supporters certainly will bring that to the game down there."

Turning his attention to domestic matters, Lennon shot down any notions he would pick a side to play against Kilmarnock at Rugby Park tonight with one eye on Sunday's Old Firm game at Ibrox.

"There is no point in doing that," he said. "If we drop points then it puts massive pressure on us for Sunday. So I am not thinking that way. I am thinking about putting out the best team that I possibly can to beat Kilmarnock.

"With the way Kilmarnock play, the game might be open and I think both teams will have a go at each other, which will, hopefully, help us. But we have to go to Hearts, Kilmarnock, Rangers and Inverness and we have Dundee United and Motherwell at home.

"Every game throws up all sorts of dangers for us but we will take each game on its merits. We have to win them and put as much pressure on our rivals as we can."

The Celtic manager will be forced into one change, with the midfielder Joe Ledley ruled out with a hamstring injury which is likely to keep him out of the game against Rangers.

"He is definitely out and he is a huge doubt for Sunday," Lennon said.

"We don't know how long he is going to be out for at the moment. It is a niggle of some sort and the medical staff are still looking at it and trying to get to the bottom of it, to give us some guidelines.

"Hamstrings are a very delicate injury and it would be a massive gamble, with the obvious chance of it tearing and him being out for the remainder of the season.

"It's a not a risk I would be willing to take on a player who has been very influential and who we need for the run-in," Lennon insisted.

Rangers supporters have learnt of more possible problems surrounding Craig Whyte's proposed takeover of the Ibrox club.

Six months after declaring his interest in buying the Scottish champions, the Motherwell-born businessman hoped he would finally complete the deal, originally costed at around £33m, this week. However, it is understood that the Rangers chairman, Alastair Johnston, wants talks to continue to the end of the season.

It is believed that Whyte's camp are more than frustrated about the hold-up, after meeting all the criteria laid down as part of the deal by the majority shareholder, Sir David Murray, and after agreeing terms with Lloyds Bank.

A source close to Whyte's camp said: "Craig Whyte is in a position to close the deal immediately. Everything is ready to go but some members of the independent committee are dragging their heels and want to delay the takeover until the end of the season."

Johnston is part of the independent committee, which comprises Rangers board members including chief executive Martin Bain, John McClelland, Donald McIntyre and John Greig, and although they cannot block the deal going through, they could delay it.

Whyte is reluctant to allow the drawn-out saga to stretch much further as the Ibrox club have season tickets to sell and manager-in-waiting Ally McCoist, currently assistant to Walter Smith, who steps down in the summer, has pre-season preparations to make and a squad to assemble.

Whyte confirmed in a statement to the Stock Exchange in November that he was considering making an offer for Rangers and was in talks with Murray International Holdings.

Under the proposed deal the Scottish tycoon would take over 75 per cent of Murray's shareholding, with the London-based property developer Andrew Ellis becoming a 25 per cent partner.

If Whyte succeeds with his buyout of the club, a sum of around £25m could be made available over five years for investment in team development, as well as the club's debt being paid off.