The international break is over and sports writers Ian Roache and Eric Nicolson discuss a Dundee side that needs a win, a St Johnstone side that needs a goal and a Dundee United side that needs to see the back of the Irn-Bru Cup.
Q: Dundee meet Kilmarnock at Dens on Saturday after stringing together five straight defeats. Will they be hit for six?
IR: I remember looking at Dundee’s fixture list a few weeks ago and picking this game out as a good opportunity for three points. Since then, though, the Dark Blues’ slump has been alarming and Killie have picked up under their new manager Steve Clarke. A clear sign that a team is really struggling is when you look at every single match and fear they might not win it. I’m worried about this one.
EN: My reason for optimism regarding Dundee is that there hasn’t been a game out of those five in which they’ve been out-classed. And I include Celtic away in that. My reason for pessimism is that when you start to get stories like the Scott Bain one it is usually the sign of a split dressing room. And that is never a good thing.
Q: Should the Dark Blues adopt a cautious approach to this game considering what’s at stake?
IR: I am tempted to say no because I have seen how impressive the Dens men have looked at times this season when taking the game to their opponents. They have shown that they can look very good going forward, even when losing matches at Celtic Park, Firhill and Easter Road. However, I feel this fixture is a real challenge for Dundee and perhaps a canny approach is what is required.
EN: We can already see that Steve Clarke is a safety first coach (he worked under Jose Mourinho for long enough). I think they’ll try to do a Hamilton on Dundee. Unfortunately if it’s a cagey game, the Dark Blues are more likely than their opposition to have a lapse in concentration. A “we’ll score more than you” mentality might not be a bad idea.
Q: Killie’s recent away record is extremely impressive – draws at Ibrox and Celtic Park, and a win at Murrayfield over Hearts – so do you think they will fancy their chances on Saturday?
IR: Yes, they certainly will. They would be my pre-match favourites. Those away results will have built considerable confidence and even though they lost 3-0 to Hibs at home that looks to be a freak result among an otherwise superb bunch of results.
EN: There’s a danger of over stating the Killie revival. There are still a lot of average players in that side and Dundee should be winning this one at home. I think they will.
Q: The pressure is also on St Johnstone, who haven’t won a game since September 23. A trip to Easter Road hardly looks inviting, though, does it?
IR: It looks like an absolutely stinker. As Sherlock Holmes (at least the TV version) said, though, “it is what it is.” They just have to hope they catch Hibs on a bad day.
EN: Apart from Celtic, of course, Hibs are the best team I’ve seen this season. Even a narrow defeat that includes a goal scored for Saints to get that monkey off their back wouldn’t be a disaster to take into two fixtures that could get their season going again.
Q: Talking about Saints, with Michael O’Neill having failed to reach the World Cup with Northern Ireland do you think there might be a managerial vacancy that interests a certain Tommy Wright coming up in the province soon?
IR: It looks intriguing, doesn’t it? There could be a scenario where O’Neill leaves Northern Ireland to become Scotland boss and Ulsterman Wright finally leaves McDiarmid Park to manage his own national team. Despite the Perth club’s current slump, that should concern every Saints supporter.
EN: As a Scot, I would like to see Michael O’Neill replace Gordon Strachan and if I was Northern Irish I’d say that Tommy Wright is the man to replace Michael O’Neill. But how often does two plus two equal four in football!
Q: Dundee United lost at home to Northern Irish side Crusaders. I repeat, Dundee United lost at home to Northern Irish side Crusaders. Discuss.
IR: I have written elsewhere about my disdain for the Challenge Cup but United should still have won the match. It was woeful stuff from players who were supposed to be trying to impress new manager Csaba Laszlo. All they have done, I suspect, is secure the jerseys for those currently in the first team when they meet Falkirk on Sunday.
EN: Of course it doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things but no manager wants to start off with a defeat, whatever the competition or opposition. The biggest concern is the form of the fringe players who can now expect a long, cold winter.
Q: Are we any clearer about the way forward for the Scotland team after that friendly defeat from the Netherlands?
IR: I was up at Pittodrie and it was reasonably refreshing to see players like Ryan Christie, Ryan Jack and Callum McGregor get their chance. The only sour note, really, was the booing of Jack by some fans. Mind you, I think some people – interim boss Malky Mackay included – maybe got carried away about what was, after all, a losing performance against a team that, like the Scots, failed to qualify for the World Cup.
EN: Jack, McGregor, McGinn and Christie will all win plenty more caps. Kenny McLean, perhaps not. Centre-back remains the biggest issue, though, so it was a shame neither Paul Hanlon nor Liam Cooper got a run.
Q: Does our own big Rab Douglas deserve a player of the year award for pulling on the gloves for his Arbroath debut at the grand old age of 45 (and 200 days)?
IR: I’m just looking forward to his testimonial at the Gayfield spacedome in 2030 against a team of robots.
EN: Rab will outlast Buffon at this rate.