THE speculation surrounding Frank McAvennie's future at Celtic Park

was given some credence yesterday when the striker openly declared his

annoyance at being left out of today's side to meet Hearts at


The player, who has recently recovered from a broken arm, insisted he

is fit and ready to play, despite the fact that Billy McNeill had

earlier made it clear that he felt the striker was in need of match

practice and would play for the reserves at Parkhead.

''The manager is entitled to his opinion,'' said McAvennie, ''but I

believe I am physically and mentally geared up to play. I am very

disappointed to be left out. I thought I would be playing.''

McNeill had explained the #800,000 man's absence from the first-team

pool as a precaution while he regains match fitness. ''Frank played for

the reserves on Tuesday and was on the treatment table on Wednesday. I

believe he is not match-fit yet and it would be an ideal chance to

progress towards that by playing for the reserves tomorrow.''

It is the first time, despite the constant rumours about the former St

Mirren man who was signed from West Ham United two years ago, that a

disagreement between the striker and his manager has been made public.

The fact that Celtic bought Dundee striker Tommy Coyne for #500,000

and will play him at Tynecastle today had lent support to the theory

that the striker will be allowed to leave by the end of the season, even

if McNeill was at pains to point out that Coyne could be used in a

variety of roles.

Much of McNeill's time since McAvennie arrived back in Scotland has

been spent in dispelling such rumours, especially as the player has

consistently returned to London after weekend matches to be with his

girl friend. None of the controversy has affected McAvennie's form, and

McNeill has been the first to praise him for his performances for the

club. Indeed, his play has been so good that the fact he was left out of

the international squad by Andy Roxburgh sparked off a national debate.

He broke his arm in the game against Rangers at Ibrox in the New Year

derby, but came back to score against Clydebank in the Scottish Cup-tie

on February 18. However, he did not play against Dundee the following

week and his decision to make his feelings public now will encourage

clubs from England and further afield to haul out the cheque books.

Other than say that Coyne will play -- without declaring his position

-- McNeill is keeping his team to himself. ''I want to think it over a

little longer,'' he said, ''but as far as Tommy is concerned I won't be

looking for anything special from him. I see the time between now and

the end of the season as an ideal settling in period for him.''

Steve Fulton, the 18-year-old who came on as a substitute against St

Mirren earlier in the season, is added to the first-team squad and,

according to the manager, ''may get another taste of premier-division


Hearts, who begin the most demanding eight-day sequence of their

season -- playing Celtic-Bayern Munich-Celtic in that space of time --

received a European lift yesterday with the news that Bayern star Olaf

Thon is out of the return UEFA Cup-tie on Tuesday because of injury.

More immediately, Hearts will be without suspended Kenny Black and

almost certainly striker John Robertson against Celtic, but for manager

Alex MacDonald, who has been chosen as the Tartan Special manager for

February, the kick-off cannot come quickly enough. However it all pans

out, Hearts will enjoy a togetherness rarely experienced by club sides.

They will head abroad on Monday and when they return will go to a hotel

to prepare for the Scottish Cup-tie with Celtic next Saturday.

Like Celtic, Rangers hope to present a new face to their supporters

this afternoon when the faithful turn up to see Hamilton make the

sacrificial walk out of the Ibrox tunnel. Mel Sterland, the defender

bought for #800,000 from Sheffield Wednesday last week, must pass a

morning fitness test before his debut is assured, but the odds are that

he will make it.

''He is keen to play,'' said assistant manager Walter Smith, ''but he

had that injury which kept him from playing last week and we don't want

to take any chances.''

Added to the pool are youngsters Gary McSwegan and Tom Cowan, but

likely to be missing is Ray Wilkins, who has a groin strain. In his

usual place will be Richard Gough, who has been selected as the Tartan

Special player of month for February.

Hamilton will have Steve Morrison, signed from Dunfermline, and Alan

Prentice, bought from Meadowbank, in their line-up, but Craig Napier is


Aberdeen goalkeeper Theo Snelders received the letter he most wanted

yesterday, from the Dutch FA, assuring him of his first cap for Holland

against Russia in a friendly in Eindhoven on March 22. It is a great

consolation for the keeper who had to miss out an a B cap when Aberdeen

had to meet Hamilton in a rearranged match a couple of weeks ago.

He will be in his usual place against Dundee at Pittodrie, but manager

Alex Smith has to decide whether Willie Miller will make his return

after an absence through injury stretching back to December 10. Also in

for consideration after injury are John Hewitt, Willem van der Ark and

Dave Robertson.

Dundee have problems, and not just because of the fact that they have

lost their last six games. Harvey and Shannon are injured, Jim Smith is

suspended, and three players, Chisholm, Angus and Wright, are doubtful.

Neighbours Dundee United, who have gone through 20 undefeated games in

succession, tackle the last team to beat them, St Mirren, at Tannadice,

but may be without injured David Narey and John Clark.

St Mirren will be minus Billy Davies, but otherwise the pool that lost

narrowly to Rangers will be on duty.

Hibernian, who travel to Motherwell, will have the same pool as

overcame Hamilton.