DANNY LENNON: McLEAN TOP CLASS
St Mirren boss Danny Lennon mentioned a couple of exalted names when claiming his 20-year-old midfielder Kenny McLean is already good enough to hit the big time.
The highly-rated Scotland Under-21 player, named this week in Billy Stark's side to face Italy at Easter Road next week, has been nominated for the Scottish Professional Footballers Association (SPFA) young player of the year award, alongside Celtic's James Forrest and Dundee United pair Johnny Russell and Gary Mackay-Steven.
Lennon referred to the emergence in the top flight in England of Michael Owen and Paul Gascoigne at a young age when predicting a bright future for the boy from Cambuslang.
"Kenny McLean is certainly one that will go all the way," said the Saints boss, looking forward to the visit of Dunfermline on Saturday.
"We will have a small hand in it but the only one who will make him go to the top is himself.
"I am hoping to work with him for another season at least but it didn't do other great players any harm going to the top at a young age.
"It didn't do Michael Owen any harm and Paul Gascoigne came in very early.
"I know I am putting up two very big names there but for the talent that Kenny McLean has, and the education he is receiving at this minute, if he is fully focused then he can achieve greatness.
"There has been a great deal of interest in Kenny since he broke in to the team, we can't hide it and we welcome it, it shows the progress of our club.
"He is in a great position in that he will probably be able to pick a club that is going to suit his style of play.
"He has shown maturity this season, listening to advice and I have seen him become a man."
Dunfermline are seven points behind second-bottom Hibernian and fighting for their SPL survival.
Lennon, whose side won their battle with Hamilton to avoid relegation last season, is glad to be free from that pressure but insists his players will be giving it their all in the final five games.
"I can totally empathise with Dunfermline and Hibernian are at the moment in time, more so with Dunfermline," he said.
"Relegation is a dog fight. We are in a new territory where we haven't had to look behind us too much this season.
"Last season was a worrying time, you can get dragged in there where you are worrying about paying the bills and your home life and that can bring a great deal of pressure.
"I have asked the players to play these last five games as if it is the last games they will ever play, and put in maximum effort in every one of them.
"There is still a lot to play for us, in terms of finishing as high up the league as we can because it has prestige and a monetary value.
"The higher we finish, the more confidence we can take into next season and the more money we have the more we can update our squad and at our club every pound is welcome and is certainly put to good use."
It is those budgetary constraints which, in part, has led to Lennon releasing 34-year-old midfielder Stevie Thomson, who will depart along with club legend Hugh Murray at the end of the season.
The former Cowdenbeath boss said: "The hardest part of any manager's job is releasing players, more so young players, but the harsh reality is that in order for this club to continue on a sure financial footing, I have to operate within a very tight budget.
"That means making difficult decision. I thought long and hard about wee Stevie Thomson and Hugh Murray.
"Around 15 years ago someone had to make way for Hugh Murray, to give him his chance and through the natural order of things it is now his turn to make way for someone else. I hope the lads respect my decision."
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