With the Old Firm result last Saturday leaving us with the opinion that Rangers are going to be likely Premiership champions this season, it would appear that a lot of interest is going to be centred on the top-flight relegation battle.

Although we’ve just left the halfway point in the league season, it’s already looking

like an interesting contest in the lower half of the division as the bottom six clubs are separated by just five points. Portugal is the only other major top flight that has such a close points gap relating to half the league as they have nine teams separated by four points.

Nevertheless, we have an exceptional competition building for the remainder of the season and currently it’s very difficult to predict who are going to be the bottom two clubs.

Looking at the form book since the beginning of December we can see that in the seven games played, two teams who were probably expected to be in a top-six position have dropped into the relegation battle.

St Johnstone and Motherwell are there because they have not won a match during that time and have picked up three points and two points respectively. Surprisingly, too, Kilmarnock haven’t done much better but can be thankful for their win against Motherwell which at least keeps them in fifth-bottom place, albeit still very much in the relegation battle.

HeraldScotland: St Johnstone manager Callum Davidson has struggledSt Johnstone manager Callum Davidson has struggled

It will be interesting to see what happens now going forward. I’ve been in fights to avoid the drop in my time and one conclusion I drew from it is, if you’re playing well but still losing then you’re in real trouble. Your form changes over the season but it’s actually better if you’re playing badly when you’re on a losing run as at least you can believe that a change in form could come and then be in your favour. We only need to look at how things have turned around for St Mirren over this winter period to see that a decent run of form can give you a strong psychological lift. Jim Goodwin talks more like a manager who envisages success rather than one who fears failure.

Hamilton and Ross County also gained some crucial points when it looked like either could be isolated at the bottom. In their last two games both teams picked up four points. I’m pretty sure if they hadn’t, then most of the analysts would be saying that they are the likely relegation candidates.

It shows how a couple of results can make a major difference going into this time of the season, but also illustrates why you can’t take either safety or danger for granted. When the difference between the teams at the bottom is so close, a couple of good results appear to alter things but it’s really only a strong run of results that will take any of these teams to a completely safe position. You only need to look at Livingston to verify this assumption.

In terms of mindset, I would go back to my first season for Brighton.

We had a team meeting when we were looking like being relegated. During our discussion, senior players made the point to the manager, Alan Mullery, that we should go back to the team and system we were playing at the start of the season when we were doing well. Mullery took the players’ opinions on board and agreed, so we did.

We won the final four league games and missed relegation by one point. It shows that if the manager and the players buy into the line-up and system being operated then a positive outcome becomes more likely. I don’t know about the internal operations of any of the teams facing the drop in the Premiership but there’s no doubt that a positive team spirit is a major factor in addressing the threat of relegation. There’s a fair way to go but it’s certainly going to provide us with the main talking points for the rest of the season unless, of course, things alter at the top of the league.


I was so sad to hear about the death of Tommy Docherty last week when I was doing tributes to Jim McLean and Davie Sneddon. I didn’t know him very well but he gave me a special experience at a Glasgow Hilton dinner in 2004.

Tommy was speaking and during his talk he said: “It’s good to see Gordon Smith here. I tried to sign Gordon when I was manager of Manchester United”. I was totally shocked and went up after the event to say hello and asked him if it was true what he had said. He replied: “Didn’t you know?” When I said no, he then proceeded to tell me the story.

HeraldScotland: I had the utmost respect for Tommy DochertyI had the utmost respect for Tommy Docherty

He said I was 19 and he called Kilmarnock on a Friday and offered them £100,000. They accepted the offer but asked if I could play for them the next day and the deal could be completed on the Monday. Tommy agreed but said I must have had a good game on the Saturday as Kilmarnock now wanted more money. Tommy told them he was not negotiating as they had agreed the £100,000 fee on the Friday. He said they kept haggling and he told them that unless they agreed to the original bid then he was putting the phone down. This turned out to be the case, so my potential move to United was scuppered. The amazing thing about it is that here was I finding out about it 30 years later. I was dismayed but pleased to learn about it from Tommy.

I was also delighted to learn that a man I had the utmost respect for had seen me as a young player with potential.