When Micky Mellon was unveiled as Dundee United boss not many would have predicted he’d have them one game away from a Scottish Cup Final.
For the man himself, though, that doubt was part of the challenge in his first season in the Tannadice dugout – and he isn’t done yet.
Not content with tomorrow’s semi-final against Hibs, Mellon wants to take his Terrors team back to Hampden on May 22 for the final and add his name to a list of legends.
Only Ivan Golac in 1994 and Peter Houston in 2010 have won the Scottish Cup as a United manager, not even legendary gaffer Jim McLean was able to achieve it in 22 years at the helm.
For Mellon, that history and fan expectation drives him on as the Tangerines prepare to do battle with their Premiership rivals.
‘We don’t believe the story is done yet and we’ll, hopefully, go to Hampden and get a positive result’
“I came here for a whole number of reasons,” the former Tranmere boss said.
“I looked at the challenge, I knew the history of Dundee United and I wanted to be involved in that.
“I wanted to be part of the people who get Dundee United back to where the fans believe they should be.
“I’m fighting hard to try to do that and enjoying the challenge of that.
“The benchmarks of that are getting into the latter stages of cup competitions and we’re working hard trying to achieve that.
“We’ve got to the semi-final which is brilliant. I wouldn’t imagine there would be many clubs that have come out of the Championship and achieved that.
“But we don’t believe the story is done yet and we’ll, hopefully, go to Hampden and get a positive result.”
Motivation won’t be a problem for Mellon’s men
It’s not just the United boss who is up for the fight: his players are, too.
Forget the carrot of European football, forget about the presence of Scotland boss Steve Clarke, all that should matter to the Terrors is cup glory.
For Mellon, there is no need to motivate his troops, with the prize of kissing silver all the incentive they need.
He continued: “Someone asked me after the last game: ‘Do you think you will be able to motivate the players for next weekend?’
“I couldn’t believe that. I thought it was a bizarre question.
— Dundee United FC (@dundeeunitedfc) May 6, 2021
“It is probably the opposite – you are trying to make sure they hit the right levels and certainly they are under no illusions that going down to Glasgow they are going into a massive game.
“You just have to get them focused on what the game is, play the game and make sure you do your jobs and only do that, don’t get affected by things you can’t control.
“I am a football fanatic. I am delighted that I am involved in such a massive game.
“That is what I enjoy doing and what I have been able to do all throughout my career. I am so pleased I will be able to do it up in Scotland.”
Hampden ‘bowling green’ can make for exciting game
Mellon, who spent the vast majority of his playing and coaching career down south, is relishing leading his team out at the national stadium.
Admittedly, he’ll be looking for a performance more akin to the 3-0 quarter-final success up at Aberdeen than last weekend’s 2-0 league defeat to Ross County at Tannadice.
For the Scot, however, all that goes in the bin with what is at stake and he says United are looking forward to “a really exciting afternoon” on hallowed turf.
“There’s so much at stake and it’s a one-off so it’ll be massively different,” Mellon added.
“It’s at the national stadium and the pitch will be like a big bowling green.
“The pitch at Tannadice is very difficult, to be honest.
“I’m not making excuses because it’s the same for both teams and you have to adjust and adapt.
“The pitch at Hampden is fantastic at the minute so that’ll be good and, of course, it’s a semi-final with so much at stake against a Hibs team we know a lot about.
“It makes for a really exciting afternoon.
“Of course, there’ll be no crowd there which is unique but we look forward to taking on the challenges that come along with that and, hopefully, we’ll get a positive result.”
Favourites and underdogs tags make no odds to Tangerines boss
Third-placed Hibs go into the showdown as the bookies’ favourites, largely, due to their being six spots and 17 points ahead of United in the Premiership standings.
It makes no odds to Mellon, though, who is only focused on ensuring his Tangerines perform in the club’s biggest game in many a year.
“Underdogs are always decided by other people and I can’t effect that,” he said.
“What I’ll tell you is we’ll go there and we’ll be expecting to try to be the best version of ourselves and perform.
“We believe that if we do that we’ll give ourselves a great chance of getting through to an unbelievable final.
“We’ll go and attack that the best way we can.
“We, of course, know that Hibs are a good side but we’ve had really tight games against them this season that have been decided in moments.
“We want to make sure that we get those moments right and, hopefully, they go for us.
“We’re looking forward to the game and whatever people say, honestly, won’t affect us.
“We’ll try to play our way and get a result.”
Benjamin Siegrist (wrist) will continue to miss out for United, with back-up goalkeeper Deniz Mehmet likely to start in goals once more.
Elsewhere, Luke Bolton has had to return home to England to deal with a family matter and will be unavailable at Hampden.