ST MIRREN manager Jack Ross admits that he would like to bring Liam Smith to the club on a permanent basis, but that his future is in the hands of parent club Hearts.

Ross is a huge fan of the young full-back, who has been consistently impressive for the Buddies during his loan spell from Tynecastle this season.

Ross fully respects that Smith is contracted to Hearts, and even if his long-term future does lie away from St Mirren, there is no doubt in Ross’s mind that the 21-year-old can go on to star in the Premiership.

“Liam is not my player, so it would be remiss of me to comment on his future until he knows what the situation is with Hearts,” said Ross.

“What I will say is that I am a huge fan of him as a young player. I obviously knew him and worked with him before, and I’m a big admirer of him.

“He has been a consistently good performer for us, and I still think he has further improvement in him. He will get even better.

“I would say that he is ready to play in the Premiership next season, but at the moment, that will be with Hearts.

“Obviously if things were to change, we would love the opportunity to work with him again, but he’s a Hearts player and that’s where his future lies until I know any different.”

It looks increasingly likely that the Saints will join Hearts in the Premiership next season, but Ross says that he has had no problems keeping his table-toppers’ feet on the ground.

“The players deserve tremendous credit, and if anything, we have to remind them just how good they are and how well they have done rather than worrying about them getting carried away,” he said.

“They have shown a remarkable level of consistency, and they deserve all the plaudits that are coming their way at the moment.

“So, there is no need for me to remind them that the job isn’t done yet. They are all fully aware of that and you can sense a determination among them to make sure that they achieve the goal that we set out to at the start of the season.”

The latest step on their journey towards accomplishing that goal comes tonight, as beaten Irn-Bru Cup finalists Dumbarton visit the Paisley 2021 Stadium.

And Ross expects a reaction from Stevie Aitken’s men after the pain of their last-gasp defeat to Inverness at McDiarmid Park.

“I think Dumbarton are the only team to have beaten us at home this season, so that just goes to show how tricky an opponent they can be, and have been for us, over the last few games between the teams,” he said.

“We lost at the same stage of the Irn-Bru Cup last season, and no matter what people might think about that competition, when you are in the final you are desperate to win it.

“We managed to recover from that though, and I have no doubts that Stevie Aitken will have his players picked up again for this game.

“The fact that it is this fixture coming so quickly will probably help them, because there will be a good atmosphere at our place and it should be an easy game to get up for.

“They are still right in the mix and have plenty to play for, so I am expecting a really difficult game, and we will have to be at our best to get the win.”