In this week’s Talking Football, Courier sports writers Ian Roache, Neil Robertson and Eric Nicolson discuss the Dundee improvement, St Johnstone’s continued unbeaten run and Dundee United’s big game on Friday night.
That’s two draws in a row for Dundee. Are we now starting to see the Jim McIntyre effect?
IR: This is no time to get carried away but I think it is reasonable to say that McIntyre’s influence on the team has begun to show. It has been a little bit similar to the United situation in that we are hearing the players saying they are enjoying training and have clear match-day instructions.
NR: It was always going to take a number of games for the new manager to accurately assess the squad he had inherited and to decide who could and could not play in the manner he wanted. McIntyre has now done that and on Saturday at Hibs there was just one change from the starting line-up that faced St Mirren with the injured Benji Kallman replaced by Paul McGowan.
EN: I was always of the opinion that the pain of the first few results was a near inevitable consequence of McIntyre having to see for himself who could and who couldn’t adapt to his style of football. We are through that period now and I would hope that Dundee will now be competitive in pretty much every game they play, providing injuries don’t take out key men. It’s no coincidence that their best performance followed a spell when McIntyre could work on the training ground.
Which players are shining under McIntyre and which should be worried about January?
IR: I would pick out Paul McGowan and Jesse Curran, both of whom were excellent against Hibs on Saturday. I also think Darren O’Dea has been a steadying influence at the back since his Lazarus-like reappearance in the side.
NR: Dundee need leaders in the team if they are to perform a great escape this season and the likes of Kenny Miller and Martin Woods are certainly that. However, for me O’Dea has been key. The Irishman has a ferocious will to win and only Neil McCann will know why he decided to freeze out the big centre-half at the start of this season. As for those who should be worried . . . the likes of Kharl Madianga, Jean Mendy and Adil Nabi.
EN: I was starting to get worried about Miller. Apart from his experience, you were wondering what he was bringing to the team. That has changed in the St Mirren and Hibs games. And there aren’t many of the summer signings who can be confident of a long-term future at Dens.
Have we seen a change of the dynamic at the bottom with St Mirren’s unexpected win and Hamilton’s recent form?
IR: It was a strange feeling after full-time at Easter Road because it was obvious that McIntyre and his players had – quite rightly – taken a lot of encouragement from their fightback. The result from Paisley was a blow but my feeling was that they should not let it spoil a good day’s work. They did make up modest ground on Accies and they should be thankful for every small mercy.
NR: Considering Dundee’s brave fightback, the result from Paisley was a real kick in the teeth. The big worry for the Dark Blues is that if the Buddies can make it two wins in a row when they face Hamilton at home on Saturday, they will open up a six-point gap on Dundee albeit having played one game more.
EN: Obviously they didn’t want St Mirren to beat Hearts but it would be no bad thing if they now beat Hamilton as well. Dundee want to have a realistic chance of finishing third bottom, not just second bottom.
Dare we get a bit optimistic about Dundee v Accies next Wednesday?
IR: Having covered the draw against the Hibees I feel that a display similar to that one will be enough to win the game. The difficult thing will be maintaining the standard they reached in that second half. Let’s be brutally honest and say if they can’t beat Hamilton at home then it will be back to gloom and doom.
NR: Even the most dyed-in-the-wool Dundee diehard would struggle to be “optimistic” about any game in this troubled season but on the evidence of the team’s last two games against St Mirren and Hibs they will at least have a fighting chance of finally taking three points again.
EN: The long gap between games helped Dundee at the weekend and it can help them again next midweek. I expect them to beat Accies.
St Johnstone’s draw against Kilmarnock shouldn’t be viewed negatively, should it?
IR: Definitely not. I would actually suggest that a draw against this Killie team should be an acceptable result for any team bar Celtic and Rangers.
NR: I was at McDiarmid on Saturday and a draw was most certainly a fair result. Saints deserve all the plaudits going for posting yet another clean sheet and the only negative would be a failure to create much at the other end of the pitch but that is easier said than done against a very well-organised Killie outfit.
EN: I think both managers would have taken a draw before this game kicked off. It keeps their momentum going. Many people think it’s a case of one or other taking the last spot in the top six but don’t rule out one of the Edinburgh teams being squeezed out and both making it.
They’ve got Hearts up next after a Saturday break. Pick a favourite for that one.
IR: I would say Saints because they are at home and the Jam Tarts are seriously on the slide. That loss to the Buddies was a shocker.
NR: Hearts were once again without injured skipper Christophe Berra, John Souttar, Steven Naismith and Uche Ikpeazu against St Mirren and are definitely struggling at the moment so I expect Saints to gain revenge for their narrow defeat against the Jam Tarts at Tynecastle in September.
EN: Can I wait until next week, please? If Hearts get well beaten by Rangers then, yes, Saints are certainly favourites. I’m probably less charitable than Neil regarding Hearts’ injury excuse. They lost to St Mirren. St Mirren.
Dundee United fans are getting excited about their Friday night clash with Ayr United. Is this a good time to be facing the league leaders?
IR: You say excited but I would suggest there is still a fair bit of anxiety there, too, because of the team’s recent past. One man who won’t have nerves, though, will be boss Robbie Neilson and I have the Tangerines down as favourites for this one.
NR: Ayr could only draw their last two Championship games but warmed up for Friday’s clash with a comfortable 3-0 win in the Scottish Cup over Beith Juniors so I’m not sure whether this is a “good time” to be playing them or not. One thing I am certain of is that United will have to keep a very close eye on Lawrence Shankland with the striker’s goal on Saturday taking his tally for the season to an incredible 22.
EN: If United can beat Ross County away, they can beat Ayr at home. Ayr have had a very kind run of fixtures but their two recent home draws against Queen of the South and Morton is not the stuff of potential champions.
Are Ayr actually the real deal or do you expect them to fall away?
IR: I think the history of the Championship – or First Division as it was – is littered with unfancied teams, who had been written off, celebrating titles at the end of the season so I would urge caution. They also have a very clever manager in Ian McCall.
NR: We are 14 games into the Championship campaign and McCall’s men are still league leaders so they are very much the real deal.
EN: I think United and Ross County will end up making it a two-horse race. Ayr’s best hope is to hang on to a play-off spot and their start should help them do that.
Robbie Neilson has some selection headaches (good ones). Pick a starting XI.
IR: Siegrist, Watson, Bouhenna, Frans, Booth, Aird, Stanton, Fyvie, McMullan, King, Safranko. That should be good enough to get United over the line.
NR: Selector Robertson is in full agreement with Mr Roache! However, picking that team is harsh on Nicky Clark and William Edjenguele who did nothing wrong in the previous game against Alloa at Tannadice.
EN: I would have Clark starting in place of King. Your main strikers need to be backed to come up with the goods in the big games.
The dust has now settled on Scotland’s double win. Where does the recent success leave Alex McLeish and his team?
IR: It leaves them in the play-off semi-final so it is mission almost accomplished. At least we have a shot at the Euros. I have been told by a few hacks who know him better than I do that McLeish is a lucky manager and the call-offs certainly worked in his favour. It is maybe being churlish to recall that it was not too long ago that he picked Stephen O’Donnell ahead of James Forrest.
NR: In a positive place for once. There has been so much negativity surrounding the national team recently, it is good to finally have something to cheer about.
EN: I haven’t liked reading and hearing the reluctance of some to not give credit to McLeish and trot out the old ‘he stumbled upon that team’ line. Scotland were in that group for a reason and they won it. Most of the football in the last double header was excellent and you can see the core of a promising team emerging. Surely that is as much as any of us could have hoped for after the Nations League?