Sur­vival se­cret smells like team spirit to Smith

The Herald - Herald Sport - - Football - MARTIN MCMILLAN

DUNFERMLINE Ath­letic can’t af­ford to be picky when it comes to choos­ing their he­roes and it may be that, in the fraught, final days of their rel­e­ga­tion fight, they look to a man whose job it was to send them down the last time they fin­ished bot­tom of the Cly­des­dale Bank Premier League.

In 2007, St Mir­ren were where Hiber­nian now stand, the tar­get for a Dunfermline team strug­gling for a foothold in the top flight. Then, Chris Smith cel­e­brated their de­mo­tion, part of the St Mir­ren squad that achieved safety on the penul­ti­mate week­end of the sea­son. Now, the goal­keeper will at­tempt to an­chor the res­cue mis­sion de­signed by Jim Jefferies, the man­ager parachuted in fol­low­ing the sack­ing of Jim Mcin­tyre.

Smith cred­its St Mir­ren’s suc­cess five years ago to a team spirit that he be­lieves can be repli­cated at his cur­rent club. Their chances will be greatly im­proved if they can find a way past his for­mer team to­day.

“In St Mir­ren’s first sea­son back in the SPL we man­aged to sur­vive with a win at Mother­well on the sec­ond­last day of the sea­son,” re­called Smith. “We were 2-0 down at half-time and, five min­utes into the sec­ond half, Dunfermline were 1-0 up at Ca­ley This­tle. For­tu­nately, we ended up win­ning 3-2 and Dunfermline lost the game.

“It is a team thing. It is about hav­ing that to­geth­er­ness on the park and pulling to­gether. Team spirit got us through. We might not have played the great­est foot­ball in the world, but it was about dig­ging in. We were scrap­ping for ev­ery point and it came down to that. We grafted away through­out the sea­son and we got our breaks at the right time. We were never bot­tom for the whole sea­son, but we were within touch­ing dis­tance and we could feel Dunfermline chas­ing us. We were happy to be 11th.

“St Mir­ren had strong char­ac­ters at that point – Kirk Broad­foot, Si­mon Lappin, Hugh Mur­ray and John Pot­ter – that was a big part of our sea­son. We did ev­ery­thing we could to sur­vive and that day there were a lot of mixed emo­tions af­ter be­ing two goals down and then win­ning. At the end of the game, it was more re­lief than any­thing else when we found out we were stay­ing in the league. It was what we had in that dress­ing room which helped us. I have no doubt the Dunfermline boys can do it.”

Jefferies spoke of the chal­lenge that faces him, ahead of the first of the eight games he has to save Dunfermline.

He said: “We’ve not got a lot of time, but you just have to make the best of it. Ev­ery ses­sion you have with them you will soon be mak­ing your mark on them. They’re a hard-work­ing bunch, I’ll say that. Maybe some­times they cause that be­cause they do things that make them have to work hard, by giv­ing the ball away eas­ily and things like that. These are things that you could al­ways stop and brush up on and keep at them, and hope they im­prove.”

If there is much at stake for Dunfermline, Steven Thompson, the St Mir­ren striker, in­sists that they, too, will be mo­ti­vated, even af­ter their hopes of a top six place and a Scot­tish Cup semi-final were ended in their last two games. “We’ve got our own agenda, we need to start pick­ing up points,” he said.

“You might think that is our sea­son over but it’s re­ally not. It can still be a suc­cess­ful sea­son for us and by fin­ish­ing above ninth would be a suc­cess­ful sea­son. It would be the high­est St Mir­ren have fin­ished in the last 25 years. We can build on that for next year, be­cause next year, and I know we said it this year, we re­ally do want to be a top-six team.”

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