ST MIRREN have been handed a boost in their bid to avoid the drop with the news that veteran defender Gary MacKenzie has returned to training after nine months out.

The former Rangers and Dundee man has missed all of this season with a re-occurrence of an old Achilles problem and last featured in the 2-1 derby win over Morton last April.

The 33 year-old admits it has been frustrating watching his team-mates struggle but hopes to return after the winter break to play his part in keeping Saints - linked yesterday with Romanian defender Mihai Popescu - in the Premiership.

He said: “That is the first time I have been outside doing a bit of running and some drills. It felt good so it is just a case of working hard now. It is all about getting my fitness back and having a mini pre-season so hopefully I will be back in full training in a few weeks.

“It has been tough but I have had problems with my Achilles before. It is worse when it is a re-occurrence because you know the steps that you need to take. Sometimes, with a new injury it is easier to just go along with what you are being told.

“Once you know the amount of stages that there are then it can be quite tough mentally. The only thing you can do is put your head down and get on with it. I just have the focus of getting back out there and helping the boys and that is all I can do.

“The plan is to come back and make an impact. The boys have done alright in bits this season and they are not detached in any way. There is still loads to play for. If I can get back fit and playing then I think I can help the team out and we will be alright.”

MacKenzie had a similar injury last season but admitted it was easier not playing when the team was on its way to winning the Ladbrokes Championship title.

He added: “Last year was the second time I had done it. But the difference last season was you were watching from the sidelines a team that was doing well.

“Everything about the place was bubbling away nicely. There is more of an edge to want to get back sooner this season as you see the team struggling and you desperately want to get out there and help – but you know you can’t. If I could I would be out there.

“But you can’t rush back because you will end up breaking down and being out for another couple of months. I just need to follow the guidelines set out by the surgeon –and they know what is best.

“You have just got to help within the changing room, encourage the lads and help keep the mood up. That’s what I have been doing, being positive about the place and lift people if it looks as though they are down.”

MacKenzie joined St Mirren from Doncaster Rovers in 2016 but is now one of the club’s longest-serving players given the among of personnel changes since then. Oran Kearney has already let seven players leave in this window but the defender understood the need for a transformation.

He added: “The new manager will want to bring some new players in, which means players would have to go out, so it has been a bit of a revolving door. Listen, if it makes us a better team then that is what you have got to do.

“It has been the talk for a while. There has been a couple of surprises that we didn’t think would be leaving but that’s football. I have been in it long enough to know that anything can change in any given day. Hopefully the manager recruits well and we get a good group that gives us the chance to fight in the second half of the season.”