AS the Scottish Premiership slammed shut for the now annual winter shutdown, the spotlight has shone brightly on the Championship in what has now become a thrilling two way battle for the league title.

As both St Mirren and Dundee United, two clubs who would undoubtedly enhance our top league slug it out, it really is worth pointing out just how good a job Jack Ross has done to get the Buddies now into a position where they look favourites to get out the minefield that is the second tier of Scottish Football. It was pretty unthinkable when he first took over.

I actually played with Jack for six months at Falkirk back in 2006 when the club had returned to the then SPL after a long absence. I say played in the loosest of terms as mainly I watched him play from my seat on the bench. He was the club captain and an excellent professional. But what really struck me was how conscientious he was in terms of training and asking why we were doing certain drills or exercises. It looked a bit busy at the time I will be honest but that was just Jack. He was always asking questions and looked an absolute natural to go into the coaching game when he eventually finished playing.

I didn’t bump into him again until 2013 when he had became the assistant manager at Dumbarton. I had asked my old Hibs team mate Ian Murray who was manager of the Sons if I could come in and train with the club to keep myself ticking over before going back to my club in the USA. Jack took the majority of the training and I remember chatting to a few of the Dumbarton lads who absolutely raved about the sessions he put on for the players. Believe me that is pretty unusual as players like a moan about everything. Plus you need to remember these guys were part time and had come straight from a hard days graft. Yet they were absolutely bursting to get out and train. It really was eye opening for me. I was only in for a couple of weeks but when I left I was absolutely convinced that Jack would become a top manager. The standards and tempo he set in training, the impressive way he spoke to players to get his points across and just his general demeanour all stuck in my head. I had played at loads of clubs all over the place under some top coaches but I had genuinely never seen a group of players work as hard or enjoy training as much as the Dumbarton lads. He then went on to do a great job at Alloa in his first job and it has been an upward trajectory ever since. I have not been surprised in the slightest at his subsequent success.

When Ross took over St Mirren from Alex Rae back in Oct 2016 it looked as if he had bitten off a bit more than he could chew. Bottom of the league and without a league win all season he inherited a squad of players devoid of any ounce of confidence. He failed to get that initial new manager bounce and the unthinkable of relegation to League 1 looked very much on. It looked like a poor decision by him to go to the Buddies. But every manager in my opinion should get at least one transfer window to shift out the deadwood and bring in his own players before he is ultimately judged on performance. He did more wheeling and dealing than Derek Trotter to completely restructure and revitalise that St Mirren squad.

What has happened after that window closed in January 2017 has been nothing short of remarkable particularly at home were they couldn’t buy a win in front of a notoriously demanding support. 42 points out of 51 have been garnered at St Mirren Park to catapult them literally from bottom to top. Over 6000 turned up to see them beat nearest challengers Dundee United over the festive period. The feel good factor and momentum among everyone connected to St Mirren is snowballing.

Everyone seems to be pulling in the same direction and that kind of togetherness can take a club anywhere they want. It is a club on the up again. The key to all this is keeping Jack Ross because for me he is the best young manager in Scotland and envious glances will be getting cast in his direction. If he wins the league with St Mirren this season he will probably be Manager of the Year. And then become the most sought after young manager in the country.

And Another Thing . . .

The long suffering Rangers fans have finally got a signing that they can get genuinely excited about. Jamie Murphy has a tremendous pedigree not only in Scotland but south of the border.

He has always been a player I have liked since the very first day I saw him playing at Motherwell. Jamie stood out like a sore thumb and has gone on to have a good career.

At 28 he is at the peak of his career and as a boyhood Rangers fan he knows what the Ibrox club is all about. It’s in his blood. He is proven at this level.

Rangers finally look to be stepping away from the recruitment roulette wheel and are going for the tried and tested and that is no bad thing for them.