The two Dundee clubs have potentially season-defining matches this weekend. Courier sports writers Ian Roache, Eric Nicolson and Neil Robertson discuss the big games at Dens and Dingwall, as well as St Johnstone’s stunning Premiership form.
The mother of all basement battles. What on earth is going to happen when Dundee play St Mirren at Dens on Super Saturday?
IR: It won’t be for the fainthearted and it won’t be the silkiest game in the history of football. All that matters for Dundee, though, is that they win the game. They self-destructed when they should have beaten the Buddies down in Paisley on opening day – still St Mirren’s only league victory – so maybe fortune will favour them this time.
EN: Both teams can’t lose for a change so you would have to say that a 0-0 draw is a sensible bet. I can’t remember a season when the top flight had two sides as lightweight up front as this pair. They have both scored five so far.
NR: It is an old cliché but Dundee really have to treat this like a cup final. The long-suffering home fans have yet to see their team take even a point at Dens so far this season and the players really need to finally give them something to cheer about. Losing to the Buddies is simply not an option.
Three points out of a possible 36 is a nightmare of a start but is there any room for optimism after that 1-0 loss to Motherwell?
IR: At least there wasn’t a wave of Well goals but unfortunately you are still take nothing from the match whether it’s one conceded or five, as was the case against Celtic. I think the greatest reason for Dundee fans to be a bit upbeat about Saturday’s game is that St Mirren are having almost as bad a season as they are. So the positive is a negative, if you know what I mean.
EN: Optimism might be stretching things a bit. A bit of an improvement from Glen Kamara is a positive because Dundee need him to be back to his best if they are to get themselves out of this mess. And Martin Woods has now got some game-time under his belt. He’ll be a regular starter in the near future.
NR: There were reasons for optimism at Fir Park. The team looked more solid and resilient than they had against Celtic. As well as Woods, it was also good to see Paul McGowan making his comeback from injury and those two should start against St Mirren.
How can Dundee sharpen up in front of goal. Any suggestions?
IR: I think for a game of this magnitude that Jim McIntyre has to stick with Kenny Miller but he will probably bring back Benjamin Kallman, who missed the Motherwell match with a head knock. Matty Henvey is maybe an option after the hurly-burly of this weekend has passed.
EN: Finding a forward line that carries a goal threat is McIntyre’s biggest issue. Not just for this weekend. Like Ian, I’d be inclined to keep Miller in for his big game experience but you can’t get away from the fact that his time at Dens has been underwhelming thus far.
NR: Miller and his fellow striker Sofien Moussa barely had a sniff at goal against the Steelmen but McIntyre refused to point the finger of blame for that at the duo. Instead, he is looking for more of his players to get into danger areas, not just the strikers. We will find out on Saturday whether he has succeeded in putting his ideas in practise.
Have Hamilton and Motherwell left the other two behind already?
IR: The Steelmen are now eight ahead of Dundee and Accies are seven points better off. You can appreciate the scale of that gap when you consider Dundee would need three wins to overtake both of them, providing the Lanarkshire clubs fail to pick up points during that time. It’s a huge ask.
EN: I didn’t look upon either Lanarkshire side as relegation possibles even before the weekend. Certainly not Motherwell. It’s a pretty depressing reality when the height of your realistic ambitions for the season is now to get into a play-off. But that appears to be the case for Dundee and St Mirren.
NR: I wrote that in my comment piece after Saturday’s results and my opinion hasn’t changed.
There is, of course, another massive match taking place this weekend up at Dingwall. Do you think Dundee United can beat Ross County?
IR: You have to guard against over-optimism when it comes to United as they have only played four matches under Robbie Neilson. They are a significantly improved side, though, and were well worth that 2-0 home win over Queen of the South. I covered the Tannadice thrashing from the Staggies that led to Csaba Laszlo’s departure but I think they have a chance of some revenge in Dingwall.
EN: Ross County’s momentum has slowed down a bit with two draws and it has changed my mind a bit about the result United need to get in this one. A draw is probably OK. I actually think it will be an away win, though.
NR: This is the biggest test so far for Neilson and his players but one I think United are capable of passing. I expect them to come back down the A9 with all three points in the bag.
Pavol Safranko looks a player. Have United found a frontman that other teams should be worried about?
IR: For the second week in a row, I have listened to an opposition manager – Allan Johnston and then Gary Naysmith – mention Safranko by name to say how much of a threat he is. The other teams really have woken up to the fact that he can hurt them.
EN: I think I’d still like to see Safranko partnered with Nicky Clark, long-term. But at the moment having the Slovakian up front on his own with willing runners from midfield helping him out is a good gameplan for a daunting away match like this one.
NR: I have yet to see him in action but speaking to informed observers, he seems to be the real deal.
Win, win, win, win. St Johnstone are on fire – discuss.
IR: I was fortunate enough to attend Chris Millar testimonial dinner in Perth on Saturday night and let’s just say the place was buzzing (that’s a word players like) thanks in no small measure to that victory over Hibs. There is a heck of a feelgood factor around Saints just now and no wonder.
EN: Hibs were being talked about as title contenders a couple of weeks ago – Saints are now above them. Livingston enjoyed a magnificent start to the season – Saints are now above them. Aberdeen are in a cup final and will still expect to challenge for second – Saints are above them. And they are only one point adrift of Kilmarnock and Rangers. Having watched a lot of them this season, I actually think there is plenty of room for improvement as well. Their main striker hasn’t scored a goal in this four-game winning run.
NR: I thought the game at Hibs would be tricky for Saints but they could even afford to miss another penalty and still take all three points. It really is a fantastic run and confidence will be sky high at the moment at McDiarmid.
Saints now have three successive home games against Hamilton, Kilmarnock and Hearts. How long can this run go on?
IR: They certainly have more than enough to see off Accies and I wouldn’t bet against them against the other two, albeit tougher, matches.
EN: I bet Saints fans are more worried about the Hamilton game! Four points out of those three would be about par. Six is certainly possible.
NR: Tommy Wright will certainly not allow his players to get ahead of themselves, especially as Hamilton also won last weekend against Livi. However, all three of those games are definitely winnable ones for Saints.
Let’s doff our bunnets to Dick Campbell and Arbroath. Still seven points clear at the top of League One is some achievement – agreed?
IR: One thing that struck me is that their opponents on Saturday, East Fife, are widely regarded as having enjoyed a fine season so far. However, the league-leading Lichties’ 1-0 victory over the Fifers meant the Angus men moved 11 points ahead of them and they are still seven clear of second-placed Raith Rovers.
EN: By all accounts the gap should have been even bigger, as they deserved to beat Raith Rovers a few weeks ago. There isn’t a manager with greater expertise in lower league professional football than Dick Campbell. Jim Weir deserves a mention too. Three in a row hasn’t got Forfar close to their Angus neighbours but it’s got them in touch with second and established their play-off credentials. He has definitely been an under-appreciated manager over the years.
NR: It certainly is some achievement although as Mr Campbell is fond of saying himself, nothing is won before Christmas. However, the Arbroath boss has already admitted he will bolster his squad in January and the Red Lichties will take some catching.