Dundee United have received a major boost with the news that Nicky Clark has returned to training.
Clark had been expected to be out for the season when he suffered a broken bone in his ankle during the game against Partick Thistle at Firhill on January 11.
He had an operation to repair the damage, and the surgery and rehab have gone so well that he joined in the workout with his teammates yesterday.
Manager Robbie Neilson confirmed: “He was back on the training pitch today and it’s been a credit to the medical staff and himself to get back so quickly.”
United will continue to take care with Clark and manage his reintroduction to the first team.
That could mean a playing return is still a few weeks away.
However, it looks now likely that Clark will be able to play his part in what the Tangerines hope will be a title-winning campaign finale.
There is a doubt over key midfielder Calum Butcher for their home match against Partick tomorrow but Paul McMullan, who suffered cramp in the goalless draw with Ayr on Tuesday night, should be fit.
The 0-0 stalemate at Somerset Park saw United’s lead over Inverness Caley Thistle shrink to “just” 16 points.
That is still a considerable advantage and if Neilson is beginning to feel uneasy then he isn’t showing it.
The manager said: “Reflecting on the game down at Ayr, it’s another point on the board at a tough place to go.
“Teams are dropping points left, right and centre – it’s just the way it is.
“Generally when you are in a league like this you will have one, maybe two, teams that are cut adrift and matches against them are guaranteed points for everyone.
“But, at this moment in time, it is so tight even down at the bottom,” added the Tannadice gaffer.
“Partick are at the foot of the table but also 13 points away from the play-offs so it just shows you.
“Everyone can beat everyone so, for us, it is so important to get something out of our games even though that may not always mean three points.
“I think people are probably looking at our situation and comparing it to the form we had over the 13 league games unbeaten.
“That was unsustainable for the whole season.
“We won nine in a row and that is what has managed to get us those points.
“The form we are in just now is mirroring what’s going on in the rest of the league so it’s important we make sure we push on and get back to where we were earlier in the season.”
It will be top versus bottom at Tannadice when the Tangerines take on the Jags.
Neilson admitted to being surprised that Thistle are still at the foot of the table so far into Ian McCall’s managerial reign.
He said: “I am because I thought when Ian went there they would have got a bounce and a kick, especially after the January window.
“They brought in good players from the Premiership like Brian Graham and Jamie Barjonas but it just doesn’t seem to have happened.
“You can get that but they’ve still got time.
“They have 11 games to go and I am sure Ian will be hoping to turn it around.”