“I spoke to a couple of lads I knew from Boro who had played for the Old Firm and asked them about Ross County. They said I would love it up here and I really do. The standard is really high in the Ladbrokes Premiership and County try and do things the right way both on and off the park.”
“I signed for my hometown club, Middlesbrough when I was 11 and stayed with them until I was 22. They were still in the Premier League then and had some amazing players – Mendieta, Boateng, Hasselbaink, Viduka – so it was a great experience for a young player and a great place to learn my trade.
“When I broke through into the first team some of those players had left but they still had the likes of Mendieta, Downing and Tuncay so it was great getting to play alongside them.”
From terraces to tunnel
“Before I signed full-time for the club I’d go and watch them every home game and travel to away games with my mates. In the 2005/06 season I followed them to Rome when they played Roma in the Europa League under Steve McLaren and Andrew Davies played. I even went to the final in Eindhoven.
“I was a diehard fan and still follow the club to this day so it was brilliant when I made my debut because all my mates were there watching. I was really buzzing that I had got to play for Middlesbrough in the Premier League but it turned out to be a day of mixed emotions because it was also the day Boro got relegated so I was devastated about that both as a fan and a player.”
“That first season in the Championship was actually good for me because I made quite a lot of appearances and gained some valuable first team experience under Gordon Strachan. But when Tony Mowbray came in opportunities were limited so I went to Yeovil on loan, which was really good, and then signed for fellow League 1 side Hartlepool.”
The great escape
“Last year at Hartlepool we were about ten points adrift at the foot of League 2 having been relegated from League 1 the previous season. It was really precarious and it looked like the club were going out of the Football League. In fact it was a pretty similar situation to what Ross County experienced last season. But from nowhere towards the end of the season we won four in a row then lost then won again to avoid relegation. It was an amazing feeling because it would have been a disaster if the club had gone out of the league.”
“I was out of contract in the summer when I got a call from Jim McIntyre. I’m not even sure how the gaffer knew about me but he told me he’d seen me play and thought I was the type of player he would like to bring in to Ross County. It was an easy decision to make to join the club once I’d been up and seen the stadium and facilities and had a conversation with the gaffer about his plans.”
League 2 to the Premiership
“If I’m honest I didn’t know much about the Ladbrokes Premiership before I moved here. I hadn’t known many English players who had come up here to play but when I was at Boro there were a few lads who had played for Celtic or Rangers previously like Kris Boyd, Scott McDonald, Kevin Thompson, Stephen McManus and Barry Robson.
“I spoke to a couple of them and asked them about County and they said I would love it up here and I really do. It’s night and day from playing in a relegation battle in League 2 and the standard is really high. There is some good football played and at Ross County they try and do things the right way.”
Targeting the top six
“Everything has been great since I arrived in the summer. Off the pitch, my family has moved up, the kids are in school and we are really enjoying it.
“Top six is obviously our aim on the pitch and that’s where we find ourselves but we know we should be at least a few points better off. But we are not so we just need to keep digging deep and picking up points.
“We do into today’s game after beating Hamilton then losing to Partick but bouncing back to record two home victories before losing the Highland Derby. But we will bounce straight back from that like we have done before and know we are capable of going out today and winning.”
League Cup hopes
“The League Cup run has been great. The chance to play in a final for a major trophy is the only incentive you need when preparing for a semi-final. The fact that we are playing Celtic makes it even better because the atmosphere at Hampden with our fans and theirs will be excellent and if we manage to get one over on them it will be even better!”