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Lennon has sympathy for Hearts players

If it was trebles all round at Celtic yesterday -- the club scooped all three of the November SPL awards for manager, player and young player of the month -- Hearts were left staring at the bottom of an empty glass as they prepared for today's trip to Parkhead.

Yet another day passed without any word on when they will be paid the balance of the outstanding wages owed to them, with the latest development seemingly being the suggestion that if they are willing to hold out until the spring, they will get a bonus for their patience.

Meanwhile, five players -- Andy Driver, Eggert Jonsson, Marian Kello, Jamie MacDonald and Ryan Stevenson -- have been offered new contracts, in a scarcely disguised exercise designed to maximise any return that might be available from their possible sales in January.

One source has said that the club was "near breaking point," with considerable effort being required simply to guarantee a cash flow is available to ensure that Hearts can meet their fixture schedule.

Since the SFA and SPL both declined a request by the Scottish PFA to intervene, it appears probable that one or more players will invoke Article 14 of the Fifa regulations. These permit a player to end his contract with a club unilaterally if there is "just cause."

In such circumstances, the visit of Hearts to Parkhead today could look like the football equivalent of a gimme for Celtic. "It's not a nice time for those players, particularly in the lead-up to Christmas," said the Celtic manager Neil Lennon. "Whatever people think, it is a living these guys undertake and they have mortgages to pay and families to look after."

Celtic, bidding for a sixth successive SPL win, Lennon's team will know the result of the Hibs versus Rangers game before kick-off. A victory for Pat Fenlon's side in his first home game as Hibs boss would offer Celtic the chance to reduce the gap at the top to a single point. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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