SCOTTISH football finds itself staring into the financial abyss with the threat of administration at Livingston the clearest indication yet that HBOS, which controls (pounds) 110m of the Premierleague's (pounds) 160m debt, is fast losing patience with some of its clients.

Halifax, which merged with the Bank of Scotland in 2001, has only recently taken an active interest in the group's football accounts.

News of Livingston's problems comes less than two weeks after a unanimous vote by the SPL board to deduct 10 points from clubs who enter into administration after May 31 and prohibit them from signing players.

In light of that, the plight of the Premierleague's newest club, some (pounds) 10m in debt, could prompt the rest of the teams clinging on in their parlous states to apply for administration en masse.

The Livingston chairman, Dominic Keane, admitted the club were ''in difficulty'' but, having sought legal advice, he refused to expand on a statement he put out on the club's official website.

''I'm very disappointed that

a report [in a Sunday newspaper] of this nature has appeared on the eve of our

CIS Insurance Cup semi-final against Dundee,'' he said.

''I'm doing my best for this club, its staff and supporters to make sure that nothing happens to it. We are not in administration at the moment but we do have some difficulties, and I'm working hard to a limited timescale to work through them.''

An HBOS spokesman said last night the report was ''speculation'' adding: ''People ask if the bank is getting tough. We will continue to remain supportive of all the clubs. We treat each one as a unique company with a unique situation. We take a totally different approach to each one.''

Livingston's situation differs from the other two clubs who find themselves in administration. The former Motherwell owner, John Boyle, took the ultimate decision to put the club in the hands of an administrator despite strong resistance from members of the Fir Park board, while the Dundee owners, Peter and Jimmy Marr, were advised, though not ordered, to take similar action by HBOS.

The club's captain, Stuart Lovell, yesterday demanded urgent clear-the-air talks with Keane after revealing that the first he knew about the situation was when he bought a newspaper after training yesterday.

''We all left training at 12 o'clock today in ignorant bliss, and there was genuinely no knowledge of this whatsoever,'' said Lovell. ''To say these things can happen quickly is an understatement. This was totally unexpected.

''I would hope that the chairman will come in and speak to the players tomorrow. We are due to train and then meet up and stay at a hotel on Monday before Tuesday's game. It would be good to be filled in on the current state of affairs. The more facts that we're given the better it will be for everyone.''

The suggestion in the newspaper report that the club's non-football debt of (pounds) 6.5m was partly brought about as a result of their involvement with the embattled Stadium Investment Group was strenuously denied by John Yorkston, the Dunfermline chairman. Yorkston is a major shareholder in SIG, as is Gavin Masterton, the former managing director of the Bank of Scotland, who is keen to sell his stake in the company.

Livingston have a 75% share - SIG the other 25% - in a

joint venture to develop office

facilities around the City Stadium and the implication that

another Premierleague chairman might in some way be responsible for Livingston's predicament has prompted Yorkston to take legal advice.

''I am not best pleased about the inference and I have made an appointment with my lawyers,'' said Yorkston.

If the bank is now beginning to tighten the noose on its SPL clients, several other Premierleague clubs, including Rangers, will be under pressure to make savage cuts.

The Hearts chief executive, Chris Robinson, has suggested the club could go into administration unless they sell Tynecastle and move to Murrayfield, while Aberdeen, Dundee United and Dunfermline have all admitted to financial problems.

Eddie Thompson, the Dundee United chairman who told The Herald on Saturday that he is involved in a (pounds) 2m investment project with Lithuanian businessmen, urged the Scottish Executive to take action to prevent Premierleague meltdown and revealed he has already made a plea to the sports minister, Frank McAveety.

''We have had clubs going into administration and others going bust: what else will it take before the Scottish Executive takes action?'' he said. ''We need help more than ever and the government must get involved and I have spoken to the sports minister about this.''

Keith Wyness, the outspoken Aberdeen chief executive, called it ''a car crash waiting to happen'' and insists the situation will get even worse. ''If you continue to spend money you don't have you will eventually find trouble.''

Kilmarnock, who like Livingston have a (pounds) 10m debt owed to HBOS, had their proposals to reduce their debt approved by the bank only last week and believe they acted in the nick of time. ''We had a scheduled meeting with the bank last Thursday and we have managed to secure our overdraft facility until January next year,'' said the Rugby Park chief executive, David MacKinnon.

''The bank expressed their happiness at the way they had gone about their business. We are 18 months into our plan and we are confident that with another (pounds) 400,000 cut from the player budget in the summer, and the success of the Park Hotel, we will meet our target by 2006.''