SCOTT Boyd insists Ross County remain right in the thick of the survival battle – even if they aren’t playing like your average relegation-threatened team.
The Staggies have surged to a seven-game unbeaten run, featuring six victories since mid-February, making them the Premiership’s form team above Celtic.
Defender Boyd, now one of the two longest-serving performers at the club, has been here before, though, and knows only too well how much hard work remains over the next seven matches.
What the 28-year-old does concede, however, is that County’s form and resurgent confidence makes them far from a typical candidate for the drop.
Boyd said: “I hadn’t realised we were now the form team in the country, but that is great to know.
“Confidence is the main thing – we’re playing with a bit of freedom. We know there is a lot at stake, but the mindset is a real positive one to have at this time of the season.
“Equally, though, we’re going into every game knowing how tough it will be. We see it as seven cup finals now. It is still so tight and we have to be wary of that.”
Putting a finger on just why County’s transformation has been so dramatic is no easy matter, although clearly the squad has been gutted and revitalised through a period of six months in the season.
The gelling process, given the high player turnover, took time but Boyd credits the buoyancy of the managerial pairing of Jim McIntyre and Billy Dodds in preventing low morale and defeatism creeping into the dressing room.
He said: “At the start of the season we were maybe a little bit unfortunate, but we kept working hard and kept believing.
“The manager and Billy Dodds kept at us, even when we weren’t winning games, letting us know we were doing well.
“It is not something that has changed overnight, but we kept at it and fortunately it turned around for us. The hard work is paying off.
“But as I keep saying, there’s still a long way to go and we are still in a battle.”
St Johnstone have already beaten County home and away this season, on both occasions by a two-goal margin.
Then again, Dundee United lost 2-1 to County at Tannadice on Saturday having also previously completed a double over them in the current campaign.
Boyd said: “It was a similar scenario on Saturday against Dundee United, but we are a different side now. Against St Johnstone is another chance to earn three points and get up the league towards safety.”
Manager McIntyre will have the recently outstanding Michael Gardyne available again after he missed the Tannadice fixture through the terms of his loan agreement. But, such was the strength of performance against Dundee United, McIntyre has a decision to make.
He said: “The players have made it difficult for me, of course they have. Those who have been on the sidelines have been desperate to be part of it, so that’s keeping everybody on their toes. It’s great we’ve got that competition for places at the moment.
“We’re playing a very good side tomorrow night who are more than capable of beating us. They’ve done that twice this season, so it is going to be a really tough game.
“We’re in a better place than what we were the last time the teams met so, hopefully, we can keep the level of performance up. The games are coming thick and fast just now and, obviously, there’s huge importance in each one of them.”
McIntyre has no fresh injury concerns, with Rocco Quinn, Richard Brittain and Ben Frempah all back in the squad after longer-term lay-offs.
Saints were boosted ahead of the game with the news that goalkeeper Alan Mannus had signed a new two-year deal.
The 32-year-old Northern Ireland international, who joined Saints in the summer of 2011, is delighted to extend his stay.
He told the club’s official website: “I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my time here so far and I could not have hoped to have been treated any better by everyone within the club and the supporters. I look forward to finishing the season as part of a squad who will hopefully secure a place in the top six.”
Mannus believes St Johnstone will have to beat the team of the year so far if they are to secure that top-half finish at Ross County tonight.
When Saints beat County 2-1 in the Scottish Premiership at McDiarmid Park in November – before knocking them out of the William Hill Scottish Cup a week later by the same scoreline – the Dingwall side were bottom of the table.
However, Saturday’s 2-1 victory at Dundee United was the revitalised Staggies’ sixth win in their last seven games and took them 10 points clear of bottom side St Mirren while remaining three ahead of Motherwell, who occupy the play-off place.
The former Linfield and Shamrock Rovers keeper is aware of that fine form ahead of the trip to the Highlands, where, following a 1-1 draw at Hamilton on Saturday, a win for the fifth-placed Perth side would ensure a top-six finish.
He said: “They seem to be the in-form team and probably the best team, you could argue, in 2015.
“It is always difficult but now with the form they are in, it is going to be even more difficult.
“We have always had a hard time up there, they are fighting for their lives and we are fighting to get into the top six so it is an important game for both us.
“Anything can happen in football and it probably has surprised a few people.
“I always thought they were a good team and hard to play against, especially up there.
“I guess they have surprised people with the string of results they have had so credit to them.
“But we can be good as well and if we are on our game, we can get a result.”
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