In this week’s Talking Football, Courier sports writers Ian Roache, Eric Nicolson and Neil Robertson discuss whether it will be plain sailing for Dundee after their win at Motherwell, Dundee United blowing another chance to finish second in the Championship and a big weekend in the lower leagues.
Q It turns out McCann is the man, after all. Can the new boss keep Dundee safe?
IR: I think that win over Motherwell is the key that will unlock a decent end to the season for the Dark Blues. The losing streak was weighing them down but now that burden has been lifted.
EN: I thought they would have stayed up under Paul Hartley. Possibly after a play-off, though. But I’m convinced they’ll stay up now. More than likely without needing to go through a play-off. They’ll beat Inverness at home and that leaves just one more victory needed. When this Dundee team has confidence it’s the seventh best side in the league.
NR: He certainly could not have asked for a better start to his managerial career but it is still far too early to say it is mission accomplished.
Q Do you think there is any danger the Dark Blues will think it’s job done, given they are still just a point better off than Hamilton and Motherwell?
IR: I feel they will kick on and wouldn’t be surprised to see them win down at Kilmarnock on Saturday as well. Having had the fright of their lives because of that dreadful run there will be absolutely no complacency at Dens.
EN: It has to be the same again. McCann hinted that the cautious approach to the Motherwell game, certainly in the first half, might not be repeated. I wouldn’t be tempted to tinker. They should try and frustrate Killie as they did Motherwell. If it ends up a boring draw, so be it. That would do fine.
NR: No, as I said above, there is still a lot of work to be done before the Dark Blues’ Premiership safety is assured but the importance of ending a run of seven straight defeats against the Steelmen should not be underestimated.
Q Inverness look doomed already but who do you think will finish in the dreaded 11th position?
IR: It looks like a shoot-out between Hamilton and Motherwell, with the Accies having to face the play-off final.
EN: I’ve seen Hamilton and Motherwell recently and I think Accies will finish above their Lanarkshire neighbours. The Motherwell defending was only marginally better on Saturday than when Dundee put five past them in Mark McGhee’s last game in charge. Craig Samson got called into the Scotland squad a couple of years ago. That won’t be happening again.
NR: The meeting between the two sides a week on May 13 will be unlucky for one of them. I just think Hamilton are used to being in this situation and that could prove key.
Q It was a textbook tactical display from St Johnstone against Aberdeen. That 2-0 win didn’t come as a total shock, though, did it?
IR: I was up at Pittodrie and it was a pleasure to watch such excellent game management from them. It wasn’t a shock for me because I always feel, under Tommy Wright’s leadership, that Saints have results like that in them.
EN: Saints know exactly which buttons to press when they come up against Aberdeen. Other sides should take note. 6/1 for an away victory was a ridiculous price. I want this re-printed next week if I’m right, but I’ve got a feeling that they’ll beat Celtic at the weekend. Brendan Rodgers will probably rest a few players and wouldn’t it be so very St Johnstone-like to be the ones to end this unbeaten run.
NR: I have been lucky enough to see Saints win twice at Pittodrie in recent seasons including the 5-1 demolition in 2015 so it certainly did not come as a shock to me. Unlike Eric, though, I would be surprised if they ended Celtic’s domestic dominance next week even if Rodgers does decide to rest some players.
Q With even the ever-cautious Wright saying they are just one win away from Europe, it’s in the bag for Saints now surely?
IR: Yes but I would go even further and say they can have a tilt at third spot, sitting as they do just six points behind Rangers. I would fancy the Perth men to overcome Partick, Hearts and Rangers at home.
EN: I don’t see Hearts winning two more games. Fourth is in the bag. And Ian’s right, Rangers can be caught. The goal difference gap isn’t insurmountable so Saints just need to peg back three points and it will set up a last day shoot-out at McDiarmid.
NR: It’s fair to say Saints fans can start looking out their passports once again.
Q What on earth were Dundee United thinking about to let such a golden chance to go second slip through their fingers?
IR: That was almost an unforgivable result for the Tangerines considering they knew they had to beat part-time Dumbarton in order to leapfrog Falkirk with just one game left. There were plenty of dreadful scorelines for the club last season but I’m afraid that one is up there with the worst of them.
EN: That match – and a few others before it – brought home the lack of options United have up front. When they needed to chase the game, Ray McKinnon didn’t have a centre-forward on the bench.
NR: The boos that rang round Tannadice at the final whistle said it all really. This was a terrible result and does not say much about the United players’ self-belief ahead of the play-offs that they could not beat a part-time side at home when they knew second place was within their grasp.
Q The Tangerines need to beat Morton away now and hope Falkirk slip up at Dumbarton if they are to get second spot. How will Saturday pan out?
IR: Morton’s players have been on their holidays (literally) ahead of the play-offs so I think United will win at Cappielow, while Dumbarton will draw with Falkirk. The Tangerines can still sneak second spot but they have done their best to blow their chance.
EN: Falkirk and United will win. Let the Morton trilogy begin.
NR: Dumbarton boss Stevie Aitken admitted after Saturday’s game that his side’s Championship safety was all but assured so it is difficult to see his players overturning a Falkirk side with everything to play for so unfortunately United will have to settle for third.
Q OK, it’s fingers over the eyes time. Do you fear for Raith Rovers after that hammering from St Mirren?
IR: Sadly, it’s looking like the play-offs for Rovers, even though I think they will have enough to beat doomed Ayr on Saturday. My fear and expectation is that St Mirren will get the point they need against Hibs at Easter Road.
EN: St Mirren will beat Hibs. They are probably the best team in the division at this moment. John Hughes’ post-match interview might get the reaction he was hoping for but it was a high risk strategy. Rovers fans will probably have to hope there’s a gulf between the Championship and League One in the play-offs.
NR: I have feared for Raith for weeks. It isn’t the first time Hughes has had a real go at his players and while his frustration was understandable after the pitiful performance against the Buddies, publicly slating the team again was a dubious move to say the least.
Q Loud cheers for the Lichties. Will Arbroath hang on and pip Forfar to top spot in League Two?
IR: I said last week that Forfar resembled a long-distance runner who has led for ages but is flagging and fears being pipped before the line. Arbroath overtook them with their win over Elgin and will finish the job at Stirling Albion on Saturday.
EN: I got it wrong. I thought Forfar had steadied the ship. It’s such a competitive league that you wouldn’t rule out another twist. But a Stirling team with nothing to play for should be perfect opposition for Arbroath to clinch the title.
NR: The Angus rivals face sides with little to play for in Stirling and Annan and the title really is Arbroath’s to lose. One thing is certain though, it will be a nerve-racking afternoon for everyone connected with both clubs.
Q It’s a year since the Doon Derby. Jackie McNamara was long gone from Tannadice by that point but life hasn’t got much better for him, has it, with York suffering another relegation?
IR: “The appointment of Jackie McNamara as manager, in hindsight, did not work and, as a consequence, has been a major cause for the current situation.” No, that wasn’t a United statement but the words of York chairman Jason McGill. It could have been, though. It has been an absolute tale of woe and those four-goals-a-game days at Tannadice seem light years away.
EN: You do wonder where it’s all going to end. Successive relegations (three if you count United) is not something you want on your CV.
NR: It really has been a doonward spiral . . .