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BACK PAGE BULLETIN: SLOW COACH: THE CELT WHO GOT AWAY, GERS APPEAL SFA FINES, HEARTS’ PROBLEM PILE-UP

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KRISTOFFER AJER will line up for Celtic against FC Copenhagen in the Europa League last-32 meeting this evening.

However, if the Danish club’s manager, Stale Solbakken, had been quicker off the mark he reckons the 21-year-old would be facing the Hoops in an intriguing first leg encounter before the return in Glasgow a week tonight.

Former Hoops boss Ronny Deila signed Ajer as a teenager from Start four years ago and has gone on to become a fixture in the Norwegian international team.

Solbakken insists the financial gap between the Euro rivals means he cannot afford to shop in the same market as the Scottish champions. However, the coach feels he should have been quicker off the mark when Ajer was breaking through.

The Copenhagen gaffer, speaking to The Scotsman, said: “I don’t think we could afford any of Celtic’s players. But maybe I should have signed Ajer when he was 17 and playing in Norway. We were probably too slow then.

“We knew about him very early when he was a striker and then a central midfielder at Start, their captain when he was very young. Maybe we should have pulled the trigger then. But that’s the only one I think we could have afforded in competition with Celtic.”

Ajer was the unlikely matchwinner against Aberdeen at Pittodrie on Sunday in the countdown to the Europa League confrontation.

The defender even drew praise from defeated Dons boss Derek McInnes for his lung-bursting 60-yard dash to get into the box to accept a pass from James Forrest to lob the second and clinching goal over Joe Lewis to maintain the team’s 10-point advantage at the Premiership pinnacle.

Solbakken will be hoping he does not stage an action replay in the Danish capital.

MANAGING director Stewart Robertson has revealed Rangers will appeal against the SFA fines they received yesterday.

The Ibrox side were hit with a financial punishment of £10,000, of which £3,000 has been suspended until the end of the season. The penalty was handed out to the club for players and staff failing to conduct themselves in an orderly fashion in the Premiership game against Celtic at Parkhead on December 29.

They were also fined £5,000, with £2,000 suspended until the conclusion of the campaign for breaching disciplinary rule 204 in the league match against Hibs at Easter Road on December 20.

Robertson, speaking to Rangers TV, said: “We’re extremely disappointed. We’re going to appeal it. We have been disappointed for quite some time in the way that the disciplinary process is working. We’ve been quite vocal in that.

“We’re extremely disappointed in the fact it’s almost a double jeopardy. The player can be punished, but the club can also be punished. That’s just not right. The basic rule that applies, or has been applied in this situation, we don’t feel is fair. There is no natural justice to that.”

SFA chief executive Ian Maxwell attended a meeting of the 12 Premiership clubs at Hampden on Monday and was told that frustration with the disciplinary process is mounting.

Robertson added: “We feel there are still severe flaws within the judicial process and we are in active discussion with the SFA to address that.

“There has also been a lot of lobbying going on in the background for changes and it’s good to see other clubs are joining in that lobbying campaign at the moment. There will be more to come out on that in due course.

“A lot of that will go on behind the scenes. I know the fans are maybe frustrated that they don’t always see what we are doing or hear what we are doing, but they can be assured that there is a lot of lobbying going on behind the scenes to change that.”

HEARTS are preparing for tomorrow night’s crucial relegation battle against St Mirren without Liam Boyce, who has not trained this week due to illness.

The Irish striker been absent from Riccarton and is rated extremely doubtful for the match in Paisley.

Under-pressure gaffer Daniel Stendel will also be without midfielder Marcel Langer as the German serves the second of a two-game ban for a red card against Celtic. Toby Sibbick is still missing, also due to illness.

The German coach, speaking to the Evening News, said: “At the moment, Liam is ill and cannot train. He has not trained so far this week.

“Marcel Langer is suspended so we are also without him. Sibbick is not ready. He is still not fit. He started to run a little bit, but I don’t think he cannot start full training before next week. He has been out for three weeks, so I’m not sure if he will have the chance to play next week or not.

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Acclaimed author Alex Gordon wrote the biography of Scotland international legend Denis Law, entitled 'King and Country'. He is a former columnist with World Soccer magazine and Scottish correspondent of respected European journal L'Equipe.

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