In this week’s Talking Football, Courier sports writers Ian Roache and Eric Nicolson have the pleasant task of choosing whether Dundee, Dundee United or St Johnstone produced the result of the weekend.
There were smiles all round in Courier Country after those results for Dundee, Dundee United and St Johnstone. Which one gets your vote as best of the bunch?
IR: The Dark Blues just edge it for me. Only Rangers, Aberdeen and St Johnstone have won at Livingston in the Premiership this season and that plastic pitch is a challenge to say the least. Scott Wright’s winning goal was pretty special and I would say I am now cautiously optimistic that the Dens men will be safe.
EN: You could certainly make a case for all three. United won at a notoriously tough venue without their first choice centre-backs and by all accounts Saints deserved to beat the second best team in the country on their own pitch. But I’ll agree with Ian. I covered the match at Livingston and what now impresses me most about this Dundee team is their belief in themselves and their ability to get through sticky spells – both of which were required at the weekend.
Jim McIntyre has praised his team’s ability to fight back in games and that does augur well for the remainder of the season, doesn’t it?
IR: He also joked that he would prefer not to have to battle back in the first place but I sensed he was extremely happy with his players’ mental strength when we chatted the other day.
EN: Comebacks are certainly a big box ticked for teams in a relegation battle. You can see why McIntyre placed such importance on signing “the right types”, as he put it, in January.
Andrew Nelson is a find. Discuss.
IR: He certainly is and it’s great that he is only 21 and looking to make a name for himself up here after leaving Sunderland. To score four goals in four starts is terrific and exactly what Dundee needed at this crucial time.
EN: There are many things I like about Nelson. Everyone knows about his work-rate but his touch is under-rated and, even though it might frustrate his team-mates at times, the ‘if in doubt, shoot’ mantra is one all top number nines should have.
How valuable do you view United’s victory down at Queen of the South?
IR: It was a fabulous result, which ran Dundee’s Livi success extremely close. It was notable that boss Robbie Neilson mentioned how few teams had left Palmerston with all three points this season and let’s remember Queens fired three past the Dens men without reply in the Scottish Cup as recently as the end of last month.
EN: Be in no doubt, Ross County would have half-expected United to drop points in Dumfries. After Ayr and Dingwall, it is the hardest place to win. Grinding out 1-0s like that wins you leagues.
Just as there is growing confidence that Dundee will avoid the drop, are we getting more optimistic that United can go straight up?
IR: The Tangerines look to be in good shape for the battles ahead and, crucially, I would fancy them to beat Ross County if the teams played tomorrow, either down here or in the Highlands. I also expect United to finish ahead of Ayr. The gap to the Staggies has shrunk to three points – they have a game in hand on United – with the sides to face each other twice in the league. Those head-to-heads look like deciding the title.
EN: I’ve thought it would be a two-horse race for a while. Ayr’s general from (apart from when they’re playing United) has been pretty poor for some time now. Ian’s spot-on, the head to heads will be key but now that Partick and Falkirk are improving, it will be the team who doesn’t slip up unexpectedly against those sort of sides who will finish top.
Has Nicky Clark emerged as one of the key members of Neilson’s squad as the title race hots up?
IR: Yes, he has. The manager has been throwing his name into chats with the media and that’s a sure sign that he is delighted with him. He looks to be helping Pavol Safranko too. Clark will be on Falkirk’s watch list this Saturday, that’s for sure.
EN: The goal he scored at St Mirren deserved a bit more attention on reflection. If it’s two out of three strikers from now on, Clark is the one who has to play week in, week out for me.
How relieved must Saints be to have stopped their five-match losing streak by drawing against Rangers?
IR: It will have been a relief but I would say it was not totally unexpected. They didn’t become a bad side overnight and facing three games against Celtic so close together obviously didn’t help.
EN: It was exactly the sort of result and performance we’ve come to expect from Saints. Celtic are far better than the rest of the Premiership now and the run of defeats was a false barometer of the Perth side’s form. After Saturday’s game against Aberdeen, the majority of Saints’ pre-split fixtures are against bottom six sides so confidence will be high they’ll hold on to their top six spot.
Is that point all the better for having been achieved without Zander Clark in goal?
IR: Definitely but Saints boss Tommy Wright armed his squad with someone as experienced and able as Cammy Bell with that precise scenario in mind.
EN: Rangers didn’t do enough for us to see if Cammy Bell is the keeper we remember at United.
Subscribers can watch the full interview with Cammy now.
— St. Johnstone FC (@StJohnstone) February 16, 2019
Should the champagne corks be popping at Gayfield after Arbroath’s win at Stark’s Park.
IR: If any player does think it’s done and dusted then they should avoid telling manager Dick Campbell, who will put them right pronto. However, the Lichties will be enjoying the sights and sounds of the Championship next season.
EN: It’s over (and has been for a couple of months).