THE SPFL were tonight criticised for giving Scotland’s clubs hope that league reconstruction was a possibility in their controversial end-of-season resolution.

Plans to change the senior set-up in this country were suddenly shelved this afternoon when it emerged they lacked the support of the required number of Ladbrokes Premiership sides.

A 15-person reconstruction working group had been formed comprising club representatives from all levels of the game and had been discussing changing the current 12-10-10-10 system to a 14-10-10-10 or a 14-14-14 for the past fortnight.

However, they were informed by email that there was no prospect of reconstruction – which needed 11 of the 12 top flight clubs to back it – getting the go-ahead and the sub-group was disbanded.

The surprise development means that Hearts, who were four points adrift at the bottom of the Premiership with eight games to play when football was suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic last month, now face being relegated.

Elsewhere, Partick Thistle, who were two points behind Queen of the South in the Championship with a game in hand, and Stranraer are now set to drop down to League One and League Two respectively.

It also means there is no prospect of Highland League champions Brora Rangers or Lowland League winners Kelty Hearts stepping up into the fourth tier.

Meanwhile, Inverness Caledonian Thistle, Falkirk and Edinburgh City, who were in second place in the Championship, League One and League Two respectively, have been denied the opportunity to move up a division.

The 42 SPFL clubs last month voted to end the 2019/20 season prematurely in the Championship, League One and League Two, decide placings on a points per game basis and give the board the power to make the same call in the Premiership at a later date.

The resolution pledged to “consult on possible league restructuring in time for season 2020/21 around an expanded Premiership model”.

But a meeting of the 12 Premiership clubs this afternoon determined that there was not enough support for change and it was decided there was no point in proceeding.

Ann Budge, the Hearts owner who was co-chair of the league reconstruction committee along with Hamilton vice-chairman Les Gray, has previously stated that she will consider taking legal action against the SPFL if the Tynecastle club are relegated.

Rod Houston, the secretary of the Highland League, expressed his sadness that both Brora and Kelty, who were set to play for a place in League Two in play-off matches before the Covid-19 outbreak, had been denied the chance to join the SPFL.

He was critical of the SPFL for creating an expectation among clubs that they could win promotion and avoid relegation by committing to examining reconstruction in their resolution - and then forming a committee to examine how they could best proceed.

Houston, a former president of the Scottish Schools Football Association, was also upset the reconstruction group had not even been allowed to present their proposals after two weeks of positive discussions.

“We’re very disappointed,” he said. “I really feel for the two clubs involved (Brora and Kelty). They started the season with clear aspirations, clear plans set out. When the pandemic hit, I think they both understood that changed the circumstance.

“However, once the SPFL resolution referred to league reconstruction and once the Highland League and Lowland League were invited to be part of the group, albeit non-voting, then you generate hope.

“Then without even the league reconstruction working group being brought back together again to say ‘well, this is how it is’ we get told ‘okay, that’s it, the Premiership don’t want it so we have to stop the process’.

“I don’t like seeing half-finished processes getting abandoned on general principle. They generated hope and then the fact the working group was formed sustained that hope.

“There were a lot of interesting elements to the working group’s deliberations which could have helped despite it being a difficult period, some of them might actually have helped to stimulate interest in the game.

“We hope this is not a signal of a long-term view of non-SPFL clubs that are progressive in nature. We appreciated the invitation to be involved in the first place, but we feel disappointed.”

A Highland League statement read: “Today’s news that the current work towards SPFL league reconstruction has been brought to an abrupt and arbitrary halt is disappointing and frustrating in equal measure.

“This year, albeit in difficult circumstances, the SPFL had its first opportunity since the introduction of the Scottish football pyramid to meaningfully embrace the spirit of the pyramid. It is a matter of great regret that the SPFL has chosen to turn away from that.

“All associated with the Highland League share the undoubted disenchantment that will be felt by Brora Rangers and Kelty Hearts.”