After defeat and a bitterly disappointing performance at Hibs on Friday night, Dundee United face what’s become their biggest game of the season so far when Queen of the South visit Tannadice on Saturday.
Back-to-back losses to Dumbarton and then the Hibees have seen the Tangerines slip four points behind the Easter Road outfit at the top of the Championship.
As manager Ray McKinnon has rightly pointed out, in this league and at this stage of the season, that remains a small margin, one that could disappear in a couple of games.
Even so, if a third defeat on the bounce were to see the gap extend to seven this weekend, it would represent a major problem.
That’s why a ship-steadying win over the Doonhamers is a must. If there’s hope United will get one, it stems from who the opposition are.
If the capital trip last week was the low point of the season, the last time the next foes were faced was surely one of the highs.
It was at Palmerston on November 5 and, apologies for the pun, an afternoon when McKinnon’s team produced fireworks.
On a day when everything seemed to click into place perfectly, United did to Queens what Hibs did to them.
On top form from the first whistle, goals inside the opening 25 minutes from Mark Durnan, on his old stomping ground, and Tony Andreu had them in complete control.
Even losing full-back Paul Dixon with a serious knee injury midway through that half, the loss of a goal right on the stroke of half-time and the need to swap goalie Cammy Bell for Luis Zwick at the start of the second half, couldn’t knock them out of their stride.
The second half was a case of more of the same and efforts from Scott Fraser and Simon Murray secured the most emphatic Championship-winning margin to date.
Ironically, given the well-below-par defensive performance that proved so costly last time out, arguably the big challenge for this game will be reproducing that kind of scoring form.
Yes, United were woeful at the back on Friday — but if any defence in the country has earned the right to use the “it was just one of those days” excuse, it’s theirs.
The defending that’s been put in since the end of August has been such, there has to be reason to believe what happened against Hibs was a one off.
The same cannot be said for the lack of goals. Since that day in the borders, nine games since have seen just six goals scored.
To sustain a promotion challenge, that must improve. It’s why Dane Thomas Mikkelsen has been brought in on loan from Odense and there could also be another attacker added before the transfer window ends.
Having arrived in the middle of Denmark’s winter break, he may need a game or two to get match sharp but that’s all the time he can be afforded.
On top of that, United know that last win when the teams met doesn’t mean victory can be taken for granted.
Queens were worthy of their point when they travelled to Tannadice on the opening day of the league season.
And they are a different outfit from the one that couldn’t buy a win back in early November.
They have a new manager in Gary Naysmith. He secured his first win when St Mirren were beaten last weekend. Naysmith has also been adding new faces, not least former United favourite John Rankin who marked his debut by setting up the opening goal against the Buddies.