IAN Maxwell stepped down from the Scottish Football Association board last night with SPFL chief executive Neil Doncaster voted in as his replacement – a dramatic move which seems increasingly likely to pave the way for the managing director of Partick Thistle to return as chief executive of the SFA.

Applications closed on Friday for the top job in the Scottish game, and Herald Sport understands the 42-year-old former Queen’s Park, Ross County, St Johnstone, St Mirren and Partick Thistle defender has formally expressed his interest in succeeding Stewart Regan as head of Scottish football’s governing body.

Andrew McKinlay, who has been standing in as interim CEO since the departure of Regan, is currently working his notice period as Chief Operating Officer, having agreed to take up the CEO role at Scottish golf.

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While recruitment consultants Livingston James have been employed to guide the association through the process, ultimately it will be the SFA board who make the final decision and the reshuffle yesterday was being hailed as a victory for the modernising faction on the seven-strong grouping. While Maxwell, currently completing an MBA, has excellent credentials as a unity candidate between the bigger and smaller clubs, not to mention the SPFL and the SFA, politically it would have been difficult for his candidature to go forward while he himself had a vote on the boardroom table deciding on the appointment. The appointment of Doncaster, whose election was carried unopposed, from the ranks of the SFA’s Professional Game Board was seen as a further signal that the SPFL are serious about working together with the SFA after years of enmity on the sixth floor of Hampden.

With McKinlay unlikely to vote on the chief executive’s position as he prepares to step down from the organisation, the final decision – which could be taken within weeks, rather than months - will fall to SFA president Alan McRae, vice president Rod Petrie, Thomas McKeown of the Scottish Amateur FA, Doncaster, Mike Mulraney of Alloa and the association’s two independent non-executive directors Ana Stewart and Gary Hughes.

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“I would like to thank Ian Maxwell for his valuable contributions to the work of our Board, in particular, the part played by him during the recruitment of our national team manager,” said McRae. “I am pleased to welcome Neil Doncaster onto our Board to replace Ian. Neil’s experience in the game should be of great benefit to the Scottish FA and I look forward to working with him and the other directors to drive the game in this country forward.”

“I am very grateful for the support of the Scottish FA Board and look forward to Scotland’s two main footballing bodies working together more closely than ever before for the good of the entire game,” said Doncaster.

“It is very good for the members to have a very strong replacement for Ian,” said Mulraney last night. “It is indicative of the will to have the two organisations working together. Neil has everything it takes to be an excellent director and bring real strength to the SFA.”