Ross County manager John Hughes has backed veteran winger Michael Gardyne to play a pivotal role in the Staggies’ Premiership survival push.
Gardyne was an impressive performer on his return to the starting line-up in Sunday’s memorable 1-0 win over Celtic.
The 35-year-old has had to be patient for his opportunity in recent weeks, with the match just his second starting outing since Hughes took charge in December.
Although Gardyne is advancing in years, Hughes says the Staggies’ all-time record goalscorer and appearance holder is an important part of his plans.
Hughes said: “I have spoken to him, he has been up here for nine years and this is his club.
“I told him even when he isn’t in the team he still has a big part to play in keeping this team in the Premiership. He has the jersey now.
“He is getting on in years, but he is another one (where) you go into the gym at 2pm and he is in there doing his body work and his circuits and he takes a couple of the younger boys along with him.
“I was doing a radio show with Simon Ferry and Barry Ferguson. Simon said that no matter what I do at Ross County, he has seen something that he never thought he would – wee Gardyne away back defending.
“He said when they were at Celtic they couldn’t get him back because he always wanted to go forward.”
Hughes says Gardyne’s application during training when he was out of the side was the reason he was given the nod, and the Staggies boss reckons his performance vindicated the decision.
Hughes added: “Michael was our man of the match at the weekend.
“I know Charlie Lakin got it and he was outstanding as were they all were. They had to be against Celtic.
“I have watched the game back and I felt during the time Michael was on he was brilliant.
“That is what it is going to need to be, you have to do what is best for the team. A big part he played in that was his week in training. A lot of the stuff I like to do is game specific.
“I set out our team and the other team like Celtic and they absolutely battered them.
“That was a practice match and you have to reward it. That is why guys like Lakin, Gardyne and Blair Spittal were in the team.”
Should he keep his place for tomorrow’s trip to St Mirren, Gardyne will again be tasked with providing service for the Staggies’ attackers, including Jordan White who netted the winner against the Hoops.
White has scored twice in his first three matches since joining from Motherwell in January, with Hughes thrilled by the impact made by the former Caley Thistle forward.
Hughes added: “When I signed Jordan, I knew what I was getting. He is never going to run away from you with electric pace, but he is exactly what we needed, a focal point up front.
“He wins headers, his hold-up play is good and he brings others into play.
“If you get balls into the box, there is every chance Jordan will get his head on it.
“A big part of bringing Jordan in was it brings Oli Shaw and Billy Mckay more into things. Oli was doing that role and it is not his game.
“They are around the face and off the shoulder of a big striker.
“It was important we got that type of player in.
“Jordan wasn’t playing at Motherwell and we thought we would need to get him up to speed and the volume in his legs.
“Jordan came here in fit, really fit and in good shape and that is why he has hit the ground running.
“Mentally, if he has a point to prove then I will keep pressing the buttons and (make sure) he keeps at it until the end of the season.”