Dundee and Dundee United supporters got to see plenty of their new signings in action at the weekend. Courier sports writers Ian Roache and Eric Nicolson discuss their impact and the case St Johnstone keeper Zander Clark is building to be a Scotland player.
Close but no cigar for the new-look Dundee at Hamilton. They need wins, though, don’t they?
IR: I love a ‘what if?’ and the mood music around Jim McIntyre’s team would have sounded sweet had they held on for just a few more seconds. At this stage of the season, I’m looking for victories from Dundee as the fixtures are starting to run out but this wasn’t too bad from a side that contained players who had just met a day or so earlier.
EN: I came away from covering this game feeling pretty positive for Dundee. There were more successes than failures out of the debutants and they will be a better team than Hamilton within a couple of weeks, once they gel properly. And they’re already better than St Mirren. I’ve seen nothing to lose faith in my belief in Dundee finishing third bottom.
Kilmarnock have been one of the teams of the season so far but can the Dark Blues get a vital victory tonight?
IR: Killie lost at home to Hearts last time around and Dundee went to Tynecastle the other week and won. So that should guarantee a home win this evening….if only. Listen, it is one of only five home fixtures before the split so three points should be a realistic aim.
EN: I’m quite optimistic for Dundee in this one. It might just be a draw but that would still be a positive result.
Which of the Dens fresh faces look most promising?
IR: I was only able to catch the highlights but I would pick out Ryan McGowan at the back. He looked like he had played there for Dundee all season.
EN: Ian’s right – McGowan was very good. I really liked the look of James Horsfield as well. He had an early mistake but put it behind him and then was very solid at right-back after that. Cammy Kerr may have to wait a while to get back into the team.
St Johnstone have suffered three straight defeats, losing to Hearts and Celtic twice, but do you feel they are still in decent shape?
IR: The main thing for Saints is that they improved a lot on Sunday. They were punchless at Tynecastle and Celtic Park but had serious chances at McDiarmid. It’s not crazy to say they would have been 1-0 up had Tony Watt not froze at the back post when he should have nodded in.
EN: To emerge from those three games with a lead of five points over Hibs in seventh will please Tommy Wright – as will the performance on Sunday. A win at Hamilton and Hibs losing at Celtic would see that stretch to eight. I also give Saints a good chance in the cup game – the third part of the Celtic trilogy. Brendan Rodgers will rest a few players at the weekend.
They are strong favourites to win at Hamilton tonight, are they not?
IR: Yes, I would back them. Accies will be upbeat after securing a last-gasp draw against Dundee but Saints should have too much for them. I also great things from new boy Sean Goss when he gets up to speed.
EN: Saints have become very efficient in taking care of the teams they are expected to beat. I think that will continue. They have a great recent record against Accies.
Zander Clark – discuss.
IR: There is nothing like a five-star display in a televised game against Celtic or Rangers to grab the attention of the wider world of Scottish football so his heroics on Sunday should help waken up Scotland boss Alex McLeish.
EN: I think you now have to rank him as the number two number one in Scotland behind Allan McGregor. At the moment he’s in better form than the rest. Ian has asked Peter Grant about Zander at a Scotland press conference, and got an uneducated answer. I don’t think he’ll be a lone voice if there’s another Scotland snub when the next squad is announced.
That was more like it from Dundee United against Morton. They have done some pretty good transfer business have they not?
IR: I have jinxed them before – it’s an occupational hazard – but I do feel more optimistic about United now than I did before Robbie Neilson’s wheeling and dealing. It will be intriguing to see how they look against Premiership side St Mirren in the Scottish Cup on Saturday.
EN: It certainly looks like good business – mainly because we’ve got a far better idea of the standard of player United have recruited than in previous windows. The days of making wild gambles with the likes of Yannick Loemba and Christoph Rabitsch appear to be over.
The spine of the side looked much stronger. Agree?
IR: You can say that. I like the look of Mark Reynolds, Mark Connolly, Calum Butcher and Peter Pawlett, while there will be more to come from Osman Sow.
EN: Reynolds and Connolly, if they stay fit, make up the type of partnership at the back that a title-winning team in the Championship is built on.
Do you think the title is Championship title is still a realistic goal for the Tangerines?
IR: They have to walk before they can run. However, there does seem a little vulnerability to Ayr and they have still to play Ross County twice. If United can really get some serious momentum going then I think the other two will become more and more wary of a winning Tannadice team.
EN: Very much so. I thought Ross County would do better business in January. The margin for error is obviously a concern for United but momentum could soon be with them.
What a win that was for Montrose over Brechin in the Angus derby. Does Stewart Petrie get the credit he deserves for what he has achieved at Links Park?
IR: Petrie is one of the group of talented managers who are working in Angus at the moment. It was a superb result and adds to the feelgood factor at a club that does things the right way both on and off the park.
EN: He certainly gets credit in Montrose, that’s for sure. If they can edge their way into the play-offs – or even if they just miss out – that will be two excellent seasons in a row. As with Dick Campbell, Stewart has an eye for a player and knows that making training enjoyable for part-time pros is a huge factor in being successful in the lower leagues.
What the heck do you make of the whole Irn-Bru Cup carry-on?
IR: I’ve always been a sceptic when it comes to this tournament and would scrap the whole thing if handed the axe by the powers-that-be. The Bohemians v East Fife episode is one of the worst yet and shows how daft it all is. If we do have to have this cup then it should be restricted to Scottish teams, perhaps opening it up to clubs from the juniors, Highland League etc. A night out in Fraserburgh is just as good as one in Dublin, I am told.
EN: It is past its sell-by date and needs to be scrapped.