The prospect of relegation can be difficult to contemplate for even the most-seasoned pros.
Factor in a points deduction, a change in management midway through the campaign and the outlook would appear somewhat bleak to most outsiders looking in.
That’s not the case according to Livingston teenager Shaun Rutherford, however, who is loving every minute of his breakthrough season at the Energy Assets Arena.
After earning promotion from the youth development squad in pre-season, Rutherford, who only celebrated his 18th birthday in October, is relishing the trials and tribulations that, he says, goes hand in hand with being a professional footballer.
The Leith-born defender has made 12 starts this term, a figure, he admits, he would never have dreamed of making when pooled into then manager John McGlynn’s squad last July.
“Playing first-team football is always something I’ve wanted to do and you’re only going to improve playing against better players,” the former Hearts youth contractee noted.
“At the start of the season if you’d asked me how many games I’d have played by now, I’d definitely not have thought the number of times that I have, so it’s come as a bit of a shock really. But I’m delighted by the amount of time I have been given to play.
“All the boys in the team are always talking and helping me through the game, just to make sure I’m doing okay, so that’s always a bonus.
“It’s great playing alongside the likes of Simon Mensing; I can learn a lot from him. I’ve definitely come on since pre-season as I feel I have learnt a lot. I was on the bench a couple of times last season but this year has been a step-up.
“There has been a lot to contend with at the club this season, which has been difficult, but I don’t really think about all that to be honest and am just enjoying my time out on the park.
“We just concentrate on trying to win games so it doesn’t really affect us. Obviously it has affected us with the points being deducted, but not personally.”
Rutherford had to make do with a place on the subs’ bench in last weekend’s 1-1 stalemate with Cowdenbeath, Jason Talbot, returning from injury, given the nod from boss Mark Burchill in the left full-back position.
“He [Burchill] took me aside and explained to me last week that I wasn’t playing. It was disappointing if I am being honest as you are always wanting to be starting every game you possibly can.
“But Jason’s a brilliant professional and a really good player so any time I get on the park is a bonus. But I’ll keep pushing him all the way.”
The Championship’s addition of Rangers, Hearts and Hibs this season has added a bit of spice to Rutherford’s breakthrough year and he believes the experience will only stand him in good stead for the benefit of his career.
“I’m from Leith so I’ve grown up supporting Hibs. It’s been amazing to experience playing against those sides and players that you’ve watched on television as a young kid,” he said.
“Sam Nicholson for Hearts has been the most difficult opponent I’ve found this season as his movement was so good and difficult to track.
“Playing at Ibrox was another great experience and to play at stadiums like that at such a young age was just amazing.
“I think Hearts will win the league and probably have been the best side we’ve come up against this season.”
Tomorrow’s visit of ninth-placed Alloa is a match Rutherford believes the club cannot afford to lose if they are to have any chance of avoiding the drop to Scotland’s third-tier. Nevertheless, he is keen to extend his duration in West Lothian whatever the outcome is for the ill-fated club come May. “We don’t want to be relegated so that’s obviously the main priority between now and the end of the season,” he said.
“We’ve really got to be looking forward to the games coming up now and have to take points, especially in our next two fixtures [Alloa and Dumbarton].
“It’s a must-win game for us tomorrow, but the performances of late have been good so hopefully everything will click.
“There haven’t been any discussions yet with a new deal but hopefully that will be resolved in the next couple of months. I’d love to stay at Livingston no matter what happens next season as it’s a great club and all the boys are brilliant.”