JOHN HUGHES has warned Raith Rovers they are firmly in a relegation battle after insisting St Mirren will not be the team to go down this season.
Rovers currently enjoy a five-point advantage over the Buddies, who still languish in bottom spot.
That leaves Raith, in third bottom, looking over their shoulder at Ayr United, who are four points behind the Kirkcaldy men with a game in hand.
However, despite fearing they face a scramble to retain their Championship status, Hughes has urged his players to embrace the challenge ahead.
He said: “We were at the St Mirren game on Wednesday and I will say right now that St Mirren won’t be the team that goes down.
“So, we need to stand up, look ourselves in the mirror and get rid of the shackles.
“We need to be inspired by the challenge of playing in a relegation battle, and be free of trepidation and go and express ourselves.
“It’s hard to do but if you can do it then that’s when you’re at your best.”
It is a familiar tale at this point in the season, but Hughes – who led Inverness Caley Thistle to their historic Scottish Cup triumph in 2015 – wants Raith to approach all their remaining eight games as they would a cup final.
He added: “You would be thinking about it on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, you wouldn’t be able to sleep, you would be excited, you would be ready to go, your nerves would be going.
“That’s what it needs to be like for the rest of the season, and if it’s not then you shouldn’t put the strip on.
“Because we’ve got eight Scottish Cup finals.
“You have to find that switch where you can handle it, where it doesn’t faze you but it inspires you and you say ‘give me a wee bit of that’.”
• Meanwhile, Hughes believes he was in the frame for the Motherwell job but insists he is fully committed to hauling Raith Rovers away from relegation trouble.
The former Falkirk, Hibs and Inverness Caley Thistle boss has admitted he was aware of interest from Fir Park as the Steelmen sought a successor to Mark McGhee before they handed the job to Stephen Robinson.
Hughes, who has only been in charge of Rovers for five games, is said to have removed himself from the race for the post at the 11th hour.
But he is adamant his focus has never wavered from the massive job he has in keeping Raith away from bottom spot in the Championship.
He said: “I’m the manager of Raith Rovers, so I couldn’t speak to Motherwell.
“The one thing I’ll say is I pride myself in my honesty and my loyalty – maybe that’s my weakness as well, maybe I should look after myself.
“But I’m committed to Raith Rovers and I’ll be here to the end of the season.
“I knew they [Motherwell] were interested but I’m 100 per cent focused on Raith Rovers.
“All my focus is on working with these boys and getting the best out of them, and trying to get a win.”