Hearts head coach Steven Naismith has hailed the job being done by his former Rangers team-mate Rhys McCabe at Airdrie as he warned his side they are in for a tough encounter in Lanarkshire.
McCabe became player-manager of Airdrie at the age of 29 and led them to promotion to the cinch Championship in his first season in charge, scoring twice against Falkirk in the play-offs along the way.
The upward trajectory has continued this term. The Diamonds are fifth in the Championship, one spot off the promotion play-off places, have an SPFL Trust Trophy final against The New Saints to look forward to and knocked out Premiership St Johnstone in the Scottish Gas Scottish Cup to set up Sunday’s fifth-round tie against Hearts.
“A lot of credit goes to Rhys,” Naismith said. “Similar to myself, he takes a job probably earlier than people expect him to.
“He’s doing what I would say is much harder in terms of still playing as well as coaching and managing.
“He probably didn’t get the backing at the start from everyone surrounding football, as nobody really does nowadays, but he has worked hard and continued to do well at a club where there is a decent bit of change season on season in the playing staff.
“I am delighted for him, I have a good relationship with him in terms of he was a young player at Rangers when I was there.
“It’s credit to him that he is still playing, still keeping his fitness levels up and being involved in sessions but also taking the burden of managing the team and coaching the team.
“He is doing an excellent job and we know it will be tough because they are a good footballing team.”
Now 31, McCabe has made 19 appearances this season and the former Sheffield Wednesday player has a huge influence on the style of his team, who pass the ball out from the back.
“That game intelligence was a good characteristic of his when he was a player,” Naismith said.
“He wasn’t the quickest, he was a good footballer with a good touch, but he could see a pass and that shows within his team. They play like he did as a player.
“I experienced it myself, at the start of the season, things take time to adapt and change, but ultimately you need to have an understanding of what you really want to do and don’t deviate from it, because if you do, players sense it, fans sense it, and you are going to get yourself caught up. Whereas he has stuck to what he believes in.
“At times they have been comfortably beaten but most of the time they have played good stuff and it’s got them points, and in the last round against St Johnstone.
“Really impressive, he’s a really good guy, someone who works hard and it’s credit to him they are doing so well and playing a good style of football.”
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