Former Dundee United centre-back Jim Lauchlan hailed the impact of Alex Smith at Tannadice and says the combination of belief and calmness he brought saw the Tangerines achieve one of the most remarkable comebacks in Scottish football.
Lauchlan joined United in 2000 when Smith signed him from Kilmarnock for £100,000 with the club seriously struggling and looking certain for the drop.
Speaking to the Tele, Lauchlan recalls his arrival at Tannadice: “Alex Smith was brilliant at Dundee United.
“He was top class with me, a real man-manager.
“I was signed not long after Jim McLean allegedly punched a reporter and it was a difficult time at the club. There were a few foreign players who had been released and Alex wanted more home-grown players who would care more about the club.
“Alex was first class and he had Paul Hegarty and Maurice Malpas there to help him out.
“We were 12 or 13 points behind St Mirren when I came in and we managed to turn it around.
“He was great in the dressing-room and on the training field.
“I had a fantastic time working under him and we went on to face Martin O’Neill’s Celtic in the Scottish Cup Final.
“Every game there was pressure, being that far behind, but slowly we clawed it back.
“That pressure was always in our head until we stayed up.
“I know I felt it and I’m sure the rest of the boys did, too, but Alex kept us calm and we could feel it turning.”
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That season the Tangerines looked doomed as they trailed St Johnstone 2-0 at half-time on the second-last day of the season.
However, that comeback to win 3-2 showed the belief among the players under Smith.
And Lauchlan recalls a win over a very good Rangers side at Ibrox epitomised just that.
He added: “I remember winning at Ibrox against Dick Advocaat’s Rangers and, unlike a lot of coaches with a team struggling going there, Alex was very, very positive.
“There was no sitting in, he was clear we were there to win and we were going to press high and not let them play out from the back.
“He brought that belief but there was also a calmness he brought and the players had massive amount of respect for him.”
Lauchlan would then go on to play for club legend Hegarty when he took over after Smith for a short while before Ian McCall’s arrival.
“Heggie and Maurice took over and it didn’t quite work out and it ended up being a short period in charge.
“Ian McCall came in and I was out of the team. He had an opinion of me I think and bombed me out to play with the reserves but my attitude was to do everything I could to change that opinion.
“I never dropped my standards and it paid off, I started to play for him and he was first class.
“He’s a very good man- manager, very likeable and I loved working for him but at the end of the season he was bringing in Alan Archibald and Scott Paterson from Partick Thistle and I was let go.”