Jeff Stelling claims female pundits are reluctant to appear on Soccer Saturday

Soccer Saturday host Jeff Stelling admits women are reluctant to appear on the show amid fears of social media abuse.

The panel is short of three regular guests following the sackings of Phil Thompson, Charlie Nicholas and Matt Le Tissier.

The trio had clocked up almost 50 years of services but Sky Sports were keen to freshen up the panel.

Regular matchday pundit Alex Scott was touted as a possible replacement, although the broadcaster are yet to confirm who will feature.

But the Arsenal womens legend was targeted on social media and Stelling concedes that females do think twice before opting to appear on the show.

He told the Guardian : "Oh God, yes. The response on social media is horrendous.

"Whether it be Sue Smith or Alex Scott the criticism is horrendous and totally unjustified.

"When we had Soccer Specials, some of the women who'd come in had been very reluctant.

"They knew what the response would be, regardless of how good they were. There's this blinkered idea – 'It's a woman, what can she know about football?'

"Twenty years ago I was also sceptical.

"But my view has changed and obviously we've had very good reporters like Michelle Owen, Bianca Westwood and Jacqui Oatley. They're really experienced."

Paul Merson was the only regular who survived the shake up at Sky Sports.

Stelling had worked alongside the quartet for years and considered quiting himself after three of them were given their marching orders.

He tweeted: "One of my saddest days ever at Sky Sports with the departure of three of my best mates.

"They have been part of a team that for me was the best."

And when questioned on whether he thought about quitting, Stelling responded: "It would be honest to say that.

"Yes, of course. Whether I want to effectively start again is another question.

"We've done it with the first team we had – Bestie [George Best], Marshy [Rodney Marsh], Frank [McLintock] and Clive [Allen] and then we built another team [with his three sacked friends and Paul Merson]. I'm 65. I've had a fantastic run."

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