HAVING a shot at being promoted to the SPFL denied has left Kelty Hearts players “hurting”, according to striker Nathan Austin.

The 26-year-old, who joined Barry Ferguson’s side from Inverness Caledonian Thistle last summer, hit the net an incredible 48 times in all competitions as the New Central Park side roared to the Lowland League summit.

When play was suspended in March, they were six points clear of nearest challengers Bonnyrigg Rose, who they had beaten in February and had played a game more than, before the campaign was scrapped.

Kelty were awarded the title on a points-per-game average – an achievement Austin says they’ve not celebrated – which, normally, would have put them into a two-legged play-off with Highland League winners Brora Rangers.

The winner of that contest would then, under the pyramid structure, face League Two’s bottom side – Brechin City – over two matches to determine which club would play SPFL football next season.

But, with play-off fixtures scrapped because of COVID-19, Kelty and Brora had both hoped that league reconstruction would present an opportunity for them to make the step up for next season.

However, the 42 members of the SPFL were asked for their views on a 14-10-10-10 divisional set-up, which would have spared teams facing relegation and allowed Kelty and Brora to gain promotion.

However, with only 16 clubs – including Dunfermline – backing the plan, it failed to gain enough support and has left the governing body pressing ahead with plans to start next season with the current league structure.

Although the Premiership and Championship clubs have a season start date to work towards, the rest of Scottish football remains in limbo and, speaking to Times Sport, Austin said: “We’ve not got the chance we feel like we deserved and it’s a hard one to take.

“A lot of the boys have put so much into this season and for the backroom staff and the club, who have tried so much, it’s like a slap in the face for the pyramid system.

“The way we got awarded the league is a weird one because we’ve not celebrated. I won the league with East Fife (League Two, 2016) and it’s nothing like how that was.

“Our celebration would’ve been getting Kelty into League Two; that’s what we strived for. If we did win the league, it wouldn’t have been a massive celebration, because we would have been focusing on the play-offs ahead.

“We’re hurting we’ve not got Kelty to where they wanted to be, and we’ve all bought into what the club wanted. It’s just a hard one for the boys to take because all our efforts have just kind of fizzled out.

“Kelty want to push up and make Scottish football exciting, and it’s just a real slap in the face for a lot of people who have put a lot of effort in.”

The resumption of football has been further complicated after Heart of Midlothian and Partick Thistle, facing the drop from the Premiership and Championship respectively, filed a petition at the Court of Session last week.

They are claiming £10 million of compensation from the SPFL if the courts fail to overturn their relegations, and Austin admits he has some sympathy for their plight.

“It’s not a nice way for it to end for a lot of clubs,” he continued.

“You look at Hearts and Partick’s situation, it’s not nice, and we could be counted in that as well. For them as clubs, the legal route’s probably their best option; they can’t afford to lose that money, it’s people’s jobs at the end of the day.

“I’ve not really spoken too much about the reconstruction because, as I’m at Kelty, it’s kind of unfair voting on my opinion, but it’s not worked out the way we’d have liked it.

“Usually, in most situations, there’s light at the end of the tunnel or there’s an end game, but, at the moment we’re just kind of floating about and don’t really know what’s happening.

“When you’ve got a date or an end game, it’s something to look forward to or something to strive and work for, but at the moment we’re kind of just in limbo.”