In this week’s Talking Football, Courier sports writers Eric Nicolson and Ian Roache discuss whether Dundee fans’ glasses should be half-full or half-empty, St Johnstone’s Scottish Cup exit and the importance of Dundee United keeping Falkirk and Morton at bay.
Q Did Dundee’s draw with Kilmarnock take us any nearer to knowing whether Dark Blues’ fans should be optimistic or pessimistic for the rest of the campaign?
EN: Not really. I think Dundee will continue to plod along as they are – a wee bit better than Inverness and Hamilton, and pretty similar to Killie, Motherwell, Partick and Ross County. It’s early days for their two January signings but, so far, neither Henrik Ojamaa nor Marc Klok have shown enough to suggest they are going to dramatically transform this Dundee side.
IR: I think it’s in the balance. You can make a case for Dundee getting out of trouble and one for their dropping into the danger zone. My big concerns are at the back, where they continue to look vulnerable to cross balls and a bit slow to react, as was seen at Kris Boyd’s goal for Killie.
Q Cammy Kerr thinks Sunday might be a good time to play Rangers. Are you with him on that?
EN: I can’t say that I am. I think Dundee would have been better off playing a Mark Warburton team. You would guess that Rangers will have their new manager in place by the weekend – possibly Alex McLeish. I would expect there to be a short-term bounce for Rangers. Also, they’ve been pretty consistent against the teams outwith the top five this season.
IR: Rangers don’t seem to know what to do as regards their managerial position, with caretaker coach Graeme Murty as likely to be in the dugout at Dens as McLeish. What I would recommend to the Dundee players is shutting out events at Ibrox as best they can and concentrating on themselves.
Q Paul Hartley has stressed that Dundee have a six-game home unbeaten run in the league. Does that tally with how you think they are playing?
EN: Hartley’s quite right to be glass half-full. The last big Dens performance – the win against St Johnstone – does feel like a long time ago, mind you.
IR: You can highlight the unbeaten run in the league – not the cup, of course, because they lost at Dens to St Mirren – or emphasise that they haven’t won a match this year. Take your pick. They do seem to be at a crossroads, with one path leading to the top six and another to relegation trouble.
Q What have you made of the Mark Warburton saga?
EN: It was no great shock that he’s been trying to get himself back to England. Any fool could see that was his career plan from the moment he accepted the job. Dave King has seized a chance to get him out without a pay-off but he hasn’t come out of it too well either. I can’t see Rangers progressing until there is a new owner.
IR: To be honest, I’m surprised he lasted this long. He should not have survived the mauling his defence got from Hibs in the Scottish Cup final. He looked clueless that day and his “tactics” helped the Hibees end their hoodoo.
Q Who would you replace Warburton with?
EN: Derek McInnes and Tommy Wright are the outstanding candidates. I can’t see Rangers wanting to pay compensation, though. It all adds up to McLeish getting the job until the summer and carrying on if he doesn’t make a mess of it. Celtic’s strength will put any up-and-coming young English or foreign manager off taking a gamble on enhancing his CV at Ibrox.
IR: The most sensible option would be McLeish till the summer, for him to then take on a director of football role and have McInnes in charge of the team. However, I think the board could try for Frank de Boer.
Q It’s been a miserable Scottish Cup for Tayside teams. I don’t suppose you could call Partick Thistle beating St Johnstone a shock though, could you?
EN: As soon as I heard Partick had scored early I feared the worst. It’s usually first goal the winner in their games.
IR: I’ve said it before but Partick can look a pretty good side when they want to. Saints were a wee bit fortunate to win at Firhill in the league so it probably balanced itself out.
Q Tommy Wright doesn’t want to put a figure on how many points Saints need to make sure of the top six. Do you want to have a go?
EN: I think one more win will do it. I don’t see two of the bottom seven sides putting a real run of wins together before the split. The only way Saints will have something tangible to play for post-split is if they can keep on the coat-tails of Hearts. This Saturday at Ross County is important. Hearts have ICT at home so we’ll give them that one. Wright’s team don’t want to let a six-point gap open up.
IR: Realistically, they are home and dry. Arithmetically, another couple of wins will make sure.
Q Ray McKinnon didn’t hold back with his post-match thoughts after Dundee United’s heavy defeat to Falkirk. Can they keep Falkirk and Morton behind them?
EN: They’ll have to raise their game significantly to do it. The bare facts are that Falkirk and Morton are better teams than United at the moment and have been for a couple of months. And now they’re within touching distance. McKinnon has a serious job on his hands to turn the tide.
IR: Playing in the Irn Bru Cup instead of the league on Saturday doesn’t help but you have to do what you have to do. They can keep Falkirk and Morton at bay but it won’t be easy and they have to improve massively on that last display. They have let themsleves down badly on the road this season, with only four wins in 13 away league fixtures.
Q Does it matter if it’s second, third or fourth in the play-offs?
EN: It certainly does. The play-offs are weighted to give the Premiership team the best chance. I wouldn’t be backing the winner of the play-off quarter-final to go all the way, whoever that is.
IR: Here’s a scenario to worry the Tangerines. United get pipped by Falkirk and finish third. They then have to beat fourth-placed Morton over two legs, overcome the Bairns over two legs and then defeat, for example, Partick over two legs. These games would take place on May 10, 13, 17, 21, 25 and 28!
Q Is an Irn Bru Cup tie the last thing United need just now?
EN: Yes. The only time doing well in this competition can be a good thing for a ‘big’ club in the lower leagues is if the overall picture is rosy as well. That isn’t the case for United. It’s a no-win situation. Win the trophy and it’s a case of “so what?” Lose the semi or the final and it’s a shock, and all that goes with it.
IR: Absolutely. It’s a distraction. Trying to get promotion is the only show in town.