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Lay-off can be make or break

AS a player I hated the winter break.

But when I became a coach and an assistant manager I learned to love it. I always enjoyed playing games over the Christmas and New Year period because you got big crowds, but just when you felt you were flying, all of a sudden you were idle for the best part of a month.

Not only did it stop the momentum, you had an absolute blow-out on the training pitch when you came back. I absolutely detested the mini pre-seasons we would have before things started up again. At least the break is only really for two weeks this time so the players can keep themselves ticking over.

Much as I hated the winter break, I bet my managers at the time, Dick Advocaat at Rangers and Paul Sturrock at Dundee United, thought it was great as their squads got a chance to recharge their batteries and recover from injuries. It was only when I moved into the dugout that I could see things from their point of view.

Some SPL clubs will be happier than others to have the winter break back. The last time we had one in Scotland, in January 2003, something like half the teams went abroad. It says it all about Scottish football that Celtic are the only team flying off on this occasion.

Let's be honest, Neil Lennon's are the team that will benefit most. Even though they are on a good run of form, the timing of the break is perfect for them because they have the Champions League to look forward to. It will get them freshened up and ready for their last-16 tie with Juventus and get a bit of sun on their backs, too.

There is a serious downside, though, for some of the other clubs, given that these days they are living week to week. With revenue down because Rangers are out of the SPL, some clubs rely on home gates just to get by each month.

You can't tell me that Hearts wouldn't prefer to have another home game between the Edinburgh derby against Hibernian at Tynecastle on Thursday night and the visit of Dundee on Wednesday, January 30, although the length of the gap for them is part down to their Scottish Communities League Cup semi-final against Inverness Caledonian Thistle on January 26.

Dunfermline aren't in the SPL any more but I suspect a winter break last season might have tipped them over the edge.

One benefit of the winter break is that it puts more of a focus on the Scottish Football League. I have covered Rangers games a couple of times this season and they have been decent to watch. I was at Shielfield when they played Berwick Rangers at the end of August and that was a good contest.

With all the rest of the leagues not quite done and dusted but panning out the way we thought they would – Celtic clear in the SPL, Rangers well ahead in the Third Division, and Queen of the South, the only fully full-time club, running away with the Second Division, it would be good to see the spotlight thrown on the hugely interesting race at the top of the First Division.

I know there will be some cracking games in there and I can't wait to cover it for a couple of weeks. I was at Firhill the other week when Partick Thistle beat Raith Rovers 3-2 and what a game that was.

The play was of a high standard, with good goals, and the result could have gone either way. I have always said that when the SPL was formed, too many big clubs were allowed to be left to rot in the First Division.

Going to these matches broadens your horizons a bit. Football doesn't begin and end with the SPL, especially with all the talk of reconstruction on the horizon.

NO manager will be more delighted to have the winter break coming up than Craig Brown at Aberdeen. While it's easy for teams to use injuries as an excuse when things aren't going well, they genuinely have been badly hit.

If they get their players back, Aberdeen will finish second or third in the league and what else could the board expect from a manager? If they are dithering about whether to give Craig Brown a new deal I think they are off their heads.

Aberdeen have changed managers in the past and it hasn't really worked out. I am not saying they should give Craig a long-term contract but they should keep things going the way they are for now because the club is progressing.

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