Dundee United manager Robbie Neilson has pinpointed the first Dundee derby as the most important match of their promotion campaign.
With the Championship title in the bag and Premiership football to look forward to eventually, Neilson has taken a moment to reflect on where it all went right for the Tangerines.
He has looked back to the night of August 30 last year as the one that mattered most, the resounding home victory that told him it was game on as regards the title.
The Tangerines, of course, thrashed their neighbours 6-2, repeating the scoreline from the demolition derby of New Year’s Day, 2015.
The United boss looked on delighted from the dugout as goals from Calum Butcher (two), Louis Appere, Lawrence Shankland, Ian Harkes and Cammy Smith put them on easy street on Tannadice Street.
Neilson said: “That derby was so important and it set the tone for the season.
“There were two moments that won us the league.
“The first was signing Shanks and the second was the first derby of the season.
“They were the two most important points of the season for us.”
That first clash with Dundee may have been the most significant but Neilson selected the second derby at the home of the Dark Blues as the most enjoyable one for him personally.
It was another Friday fright night for James McPake’s players on November 8 as they were well beaten again, albeit United managed just the two goals this time via a Nicky Clark penalty and a cracker from Shankland.
Neilson, who was speaking to the Dode Fox podcast, added: “To go over to Dens and to beat your rivals 2-0…
“When Shanks scored it erupted.
“The away end was rocking and you turned around and the rest of the stadium was empty.”
It wasn’t all hunky-dory, of course, and Neilson looked back on the tough times as well.
“Our first league loss was at Ayr and that was off the back of four wins on the bounce,” he recalled.
“It was one of these games where it didn’t happen for us.
“We spoke to the staff about preparing if we lost a game.
“It is easy when you win, win, win but you also need to prepare for when you lose.
“We spoke about being consistent and positive with our message.
“We knew when we lost a game there would be external noise from everyone that it was happening again (United struggling), that it has happened for the last three years and it is happening again.
“We won the next two and went to Alloa on the Astroturf and Queen of the South, again on the astro. That doesn’t suit us.
“We tried to be positive because we knew there would be a lot of negatives coming from outside.
“There are times where you have to have a pop or digs at your players but it can’t be the hammer all the time.”
Neilson’s greatest regret will come as no surprise to anyone.
The coronavirus lockdown meant there was no full-time whistle fling for him and his players.
There were no moments captured by the TV cameras or photographer’s lens when they knew they were champions.
Those would have been memories to cherish for a lifetime and Neilson’s realises that.
He said: “The biggest disappointment for me was that we didn’t have that final moment.
“We all wanted that moment whenever and wherever it was – Arbroath away or at Tannadice – when that final whistle goes and you know it is done.
“We didn’t get that and that is the biggest disappointment.
“I would have loved to have finished the season.
“That is why I think it is important to try and get something – when the fans are there and whenever it is – so we can say that’s it done and we can move on.”