Former Ross County midfielder Richie Hart praised boss Malky Mackay for sticking to his beliefs when the going got tough to help the Staggies rise off the foot of the Premiership.
Outside the top three of Rangers, Celtic and Hearts, County were the form top-flight team in the closing weeks of the year before the advanced winter break.
The leading trio were the only teams to beat them in a 10-game period, as County climbed above St Johnstone and Dundee with strong results.
They return at home to Motherwell on January 18 and sit just one point behind St Mirren and two points below Livingston as they aim to increase the gap over the bottom two sides.
Team pulling in same direction – Hart
Hart, who had two spells with the Staggies, works as a co-presenter with the club’s TV, and he pin-pointed Mackay’s experience in handling pressure situations.
He said: “Everything is moving in the right direction and there’s no reason why Ross County can’t continue their good form.
“The team spirit is also really strong – everyone is behind the manager and (assistant boss) Don Cowie.
“It can be a really positive end to the season for County. It was huge for them not only to get off the bottom of the table, but rise to 10th. That gives them something to build on.
“While the performances can be there, while you’re not picking up results, it becomes tough. Finishing the year on a high is great and I can see that continuing. We’ll see if Malky add to the squad, but he already has plenty of options.
“He’s a very astute manager and he’s done really well with that squad this season.
“It was a huge transitional period and Malky stuck with what he believed. He knew they would get there and he didn’t panic.
“He didn’t change things, go defensive and he never tried to shut up shop. Malky kept the same methodology all the way through and it paid off, starting with the resounding 5-0 win at Dundee.”
Loan stars can always secure moves
County were dealt a transfer blow this week when on-loan defender Harry Clarke was recalled by his parent club Arsenal with a view to him joining Hibs under their new boss Shaun Maloney.
The 20-year-old has been a stand-out figure at the back, showing why he’s come from an English Premier League club.
He was one of six loanees Mackay brought in this season as the manager effectively built the squad from scratch after John Hughes kept them up and the squad was later dismantled as Mackay came in.
Hart explained there was not much option for Mackay other than to look to loanees, with Ashley Maynard-Brewer (Charlton), Joseph Hungbo (Watford), Jack Burroughs (Coventry City), Jake Vokins (Southampton) and Alex Robertson (Manchester City) all switching north on loans.
He said: “County have been open and honest about why they have gone down the loan transfer route.
“In such a short time, there was a huge amount of players leaving the club and Malky needed to get players in.
“It is not easy to attract the right quality of player in Scotland to join. It’s, therefore, really difficult to persuade players from away down south to come to Dingwall.
“It’s just down to location and, in an ideal world, they would not have wanted to take in as many loan signings as they have. To be fair, the loan signings have been brilliant for County.
“The danger is when loan players do well, they will either get recalled by their parent club because they’ve achieved the objective of getting games and doing well or the players – through their performances – put themselves in the shop window to get a move elsewhere.
“County will, of course, be hugely disappointed to have lost Harry Clarke. I have seen a lot of County this season and he’s one player who has stood out.”
Mackay will react to Clarke exit
Hart reckons the Staggies boss is the ideal man to manage the loss of Clarke, be it by recruiting or working with what he has already at Dingwall.
He added: “They’re losing a really influential player in Harry, who has been a stand-out performer, but I am sure Malky will have a contingency plan.
“He already has a good squad here. Harry did miss a couple of games through suspension earlier in the season, but Malky has utilised his squad very well and most of the players have had decent game time. He hasn’t gone with the same 11 week in, week out and he’s rotated it when he needed to.
“Even just Harry being recalled to Arsenal could always have happened this month, so he’ll have been ready for that.
“It gives someone else the chance to come in. I know Tom Grivosti, who has been at loan at Elgin, could maybe come back. If he gets his chance, I hope he takes it.”