Even before I’ve started, I know I’ve probably cursed our chances, but this weekend’s (potentially) final derby of the season presents Dundee with their best chance of victory this season. Although victory would, in all likelihood, be in vain given the gap between ourselves and St Mirren, it would provide a morale-boost that could yet help make the miraculous happen.
A lot of my optimism stems from the injuries plaguing the United squad. Johnny Russell appears to be out for the rest of the season (and, arguably, was denied a Scotland call-up) due to a broken leg; Flood, McLean, Daly and Gunning all look set to miss out, and Rankin’s red card could also result in the influential midfielder sitting out. Apart from Gary Mackay-Steven, there isn’t a single player in the potential United team that stands out given this injury list. With McLean, Daly and Flood, United were lucky to escape Dens with a victory in the quarter-final; without them, and given their recent small hiccup in form and the pressure to finish in the top six, nerves may be jangling at Tannadice.
In contrast, Dundee’s situation is slowly but surely improving. As well as having Harkins available (he was cup-tied for the quarter-final), Carl Finnigan is beginning to come off the bench, and John Baird is finally hitting the goalscoring form that led to his signing in the first place. Although our defence is still patchy (particularly with Rab Douglas struggling with a niggling injury), the growing understanding between our midfield and our strikers is heartening to see, and we’re finally beginning to cap off our early pressure with goals. Although I’m still opposed to Bomber Brown’s interim role for the reasons I set out in a previous column, he is at least appearing to gee up the players and instil a hunger that has occasionally seemed missing from our performances this season.
We’ve also now gone 3 league games undefeated, collecting 5 points from a possible 9; although that would ideally be 9/9 (particularly since all 3 games were at home), we are at least gaining slightly on St.Mirren and Hearts. A win against United would bring us to within 11 points of the Buddies and 12 points of the Jambos with Motherwell (H) and Killie (A) to play; with the Paisley side facing Celtic (H), Killie (A) and Hearts playing Aberdeen (A) and in-form Ross County (H), we could optimistically hope to draw one side or the other to within 6 or 7 points by the split, at which point everything is to play for.
We’ve now had 3 derbies this season and 3 90-minute lessons in what not to do against your fierce (but friendly) rivals; hopefully, with feelings still raw after a narrow defeat last week, we can harness that energy and finally give everyone at the club our first derby victory to savour since 2005.
Injuries, form and experience are all currently working in our favour; the only thing left is the performance. In a derby, though, anything can happen.
Prediction: Dundee United 1-3 Dundee