Stevie Mallan relished the freedom he was given under Jack Ross at St Mirren, saying it offered him the ideal environment to thrive and produce the best football of his career.
It also turned around the fortunes of the Paisley club, who were in the doldrums before Ross arrived, helping them stave off relegation and then steering them to the Championship title and promotion the following season.
By then, Mallan had departed for Barnsley but now the pair have been reunited at Hibernian, and the midfielder is hoping Ross will again prove the ideal gaffer to spark new life into the Easter Road side’s league campaign.
“It wasn’t going great at St Mirren before he came in, and I did kick on when he came in – and probably played the best football of my career in the last six months of that season. I was scoring goals, contributing to the team.
“We had a lot of pressure on us at the time. We had to get points, had to win games that we weren’t expected to win.”
But through shrewd recruitment, inspirational man-management and a willingness to give players free rein, Ross managed to organise and imbue that Paisley squad with the confidence and nous to go out week in, week out and accumulate enough points to ensure safety and catapult individuals and the club to better things.
“He gave me a lot of freedom to play, he brought in Stephen McGinn and that helped me because he was more of a sitting midfielder and he let me go forward,” added Mallan. “I ended up scoring quite a lot of goals and I think him giving me that freedom to play with a great bunch of players around me let me go and perform. He would take that serious side away from it and let you go and enjoy your game even though we were wanting to win every Saturday.”
Mallan wasn’t the only one to get his big move south as a consequence. Jack was lured to the Stadium of Light and although the highs of cup finals and play-offs were followed by a disappointing start to this season, the experience will have proved invaluable to his on-going development, according to the player, who credits his own stint in the English leagues with aiding his footballing education.
Mallan said: “He’ll be better for his experience down south. When you experience different things, you gain more knowledge. I felt that when I went to Barnsley. I learned other sides of the game and I’m sure that when he went to Sunderland, his eyes were opened and he learned a lot more.
“As soon as I heard all the managers in line for the job, Jack was obviously top of the list. Because he came in at St Mirren around about the same time of the season – it was October, I think, and turned things around.
“We are in a better position than we were at St Mirren, where we were bottom of the league, a good 11 or 12 points off second bottom. We’re in a good position, especially with the win against St Johnstone. So we’re looking to push up the league and get into that top four.
“It was a great time when I worked with him at St Mirren even though when we first started out it was a bad time for the club. We had a great end to the season and defied the odds by staying up.
“He was a good man-manager and his door was always open. If you were playing he was always on you to keep your standards high and when you weren’t playing he was always talking to you. That’s one thing you want when you’re not playing, somebody telling you what you need to do to get better, how close you are to the team. The boys who weren’t playing still enjoyed it because he was a good man-manager. He picked the spirits up and we all gelled together.”