STIRLING ALBION boss Stuart McLaren was delighted to scoop the Ladbrokes Manager of the Month award for December but admits he would give it up in exchange for his side lifting the League Two title in a heartbeat.

McLaren won the award for the division’s top manager while striker Darren Smith was rewarded for his four goals, including a stunning hat-trick against Montrose, with the Player of the Month prize.

The Binos won three of their matches last month, hauling themselves into the heart of the League Two promotion race, and the manager thanked his players for the part they have played in turning Albion’s season around.

McLaren told Stirling News Sport: “It is nice but there is a long way to go in the season, and if you gave me the choice between one of these awards every month and picking up the league trophy at the end of the season it is a no brainer.

“It’s nice to get a bit of recognition for the work that you do but I think all managers are the same in that after a good spell you want to acknowledge the efforts of the players. Ultimately we can do as good a job as possible from Monday to Friday but when they cross the line on a Saturday it is down to them. The award comes on the back of results over the month of December but it’s the players who go out and earn them so I had better say thank you very much to them for doing that.

“We had a tough spell at the start of the season in terms of results and there is no doubt that it brought a little bit of pressure. Looking back we were maybe expecting a bit too much of ourselves. We had a lot of changes in the squad, we had a few disruptions with injuries and players leaving the club but it is sometimes a benefit to go through those periods. Those are the times you look back on and help shape who you are as a team.”

The Binos travel to Inverness tomorrow for a glamour Scottish Cup replay against the holders, and McLaren believes his side have every chance of improving on the draw they managed at Forthbank nine days ago.

Kevin McKinlay is the only new absentee, with the defender facing a spell on the sidelines after picking up a hamstring injury during last week's stalemate.

He said: “We are looking for a repeat and without being too greedy we could maybe even go one better. It was a terrific performance from the boys in the first game and it is going to be a much bigger challenge second time around. Inverness are more aware of us and it is on their patch, but one thing I know about this group is that when a challenge comes along, generally this season they have stood up well to that. I am expecting a good performance but after that the result will take care of itself.

“Kevin McKinlay has had a scan on that hamstring tear that he suffered in the Inverness match so we are looking at a period of weeks before he is back. Ross McMillan is probably about a fortnight away from a return but aside from those two thankfully we have no injury or illness worries at this point in time, so we have a very good squad to choose from.”

The Binos boss has already made his first move of the January transfer window, bringing defender Scot Buist back to the club after the 30-year-old came out of retirement, and McLaren is confident the former Alloa and Brechin centre-back can strengthen the Albion backline as they challenge for promotion to League One.

He added: “On the couple of occasions where we have let ourselves down this year it has generally been on the defensive side of the game. Scot's individual qualities will strengthen us in that area but his leadership qualities will also be a great guide to some of the younger players in there and to a few of the older players when they need a bit of extra guidance.”