Ross County manager John Hughes says the prospect of relegating his close friend Brian Rice will not register on his mind when the Staggies take on Hamilton Accies tomorrow.
County host bottom club Accies in their penultimate Premiership game of the season, with the 10th-placed Dingwall men three points ahead of their Lanarkshire opponents.
A Staggies victory, coupled with a win for second-bottom Kilmarnock against St Mirren, would confirm Hamilton’s relegation and end their seven-year stay in the top flight.
Rice was a long-serving assistant to Hughes at Falkirk, Hibernian and Caley Thistle, before making the step into management himself in 2019.
Although Hughes has a strong admiration for the pathway taken by Rice, he is focused on ensuring the Staggies get the points they need to continue their own survival push.
Hughes said: “I have always been good friends with Brian, I have known him for a number of years.
“We have always had a good working relationship. I was with him a couple of weeks ago when he was up watching Inverness against Dundee, so we had a catch up there.
“I am proud of Brian. I take a great pride in what he’s doing in going himself and getting into management.
“I can only wish him all the best, but there are going to be winners and losers. That’s what football does.
“The game always throws up so many ex-managers you have worked with before.
“It’s unfortunate when friends come together there has to be winners and losers.
“Hopefully we will be the winners on Wednesday, but it will be amicable.
“Football is quite easy if you concentrate on your own team, and when we do our match preparation I’m looking for these guys to implement what I’m doing on the coaching pitch.
“All our focus will be on our own team, and I’m quite sure Brian will be the same.”
All three encounters between the sides this season have resulted in away victories, with County winning both matches at New Douglas Park, while Accies triumphed 2-0 in Dingwall in December in Hughes’ predecessor Stuart Kettlewell’s final game in charge.
Hughes is hopeful his side’s efforts will be rewarded by remaining in the Premiership for a third successive campaign, with County ending the season away to Motherwell on Sunday.
The Staggies boss added: “There is not too much between the teams, it will be fine margins and hopefully they’ll fall on the side of Ross County.
“The objective when I came in was to keep the team up, but I also look at the progress we have made, individually in some of the players and the small steps they have made.
“Hopefully all the work we’ve put in place, we will get the result to keep us in the Premiership. That’s all credit to everyone at the club, but mainly the players.
“They are a good bunch of boys. I have always separated the footballer from the person, I get a good bit of banter with them and I’m in among that.
“When it comes to football, we have to get the serious head on. Hopefully for all our hard work, with a wee bit of luck, it goes our way.”