Dundee United manager Ray McKinnon has praised teenagers Ali Coote and Scott Allardice for knocking on the door of the first team.
With the pressure really on the Tangerines to get promoted back to the Premiership and every point a prisoner as a result, there haven’t been many opportunities to blood youngsters from the development squad.
However, McKinnon has been so impressed by forward Coote and midfielder Allardice that he is keen to give them a go whenever the chance comes along.
Coote has been a used substitute five times so far this season, while Allardice was poised to come on against Queen of the South in the Irn-Bru Cup on Saturday before a second goal for the Doonhamers meant a late change of plan.
Both of the 18-year-olds are likely to be on the bench again when the Tangerines take on Morton at Tannadice in the Championship tomorrow and if they keep working hard then they can expect some game time.
The United boss said: “Over the last few weeks, Ali and Scott have been real positives for me.
“There is a wee batch of young players here – including Jamie Robson, who has been in and out of the side – who are doing really well but the frustrating thing is that it would actually be easier to put them into the first team if we were in the Premiership.
“It’s more difficult to use young guys when there is so little room to manoeuvre.
“However, Ali and Scott are doing themselves a lot of good.
“Ali is just 18 and consistency is difficult to achieve at that age.
“Until recently, he had been OK in the under-20s but not quite at a level that would see him pushing for the first team.
“Over the last three or four games, though, he has shown the kind of consistency that we have been looking for.
“We know he is a talented boy but he has to earn it and that wasn’t happening until relatively recently.
“The last few weeks have seen Ali buckle down and train really hard.
“He still has a lot to learn and he has to appreciate that while he was a lot quicker than the other lads at 15, they have caught him up now so he has to improve other aspects of the game.
“Pace won’t get him away from players at this level the way it did when he was younger so now so he has to adapt.
“We have played him as a striker and I have been so pleased with him, as you can see by his substitute appearances.
“I would also add that another one to have done really well in the 20s and impressed me is Scott.
“He is also only 18 but has had three knee dislocations, missing two years of football.
“He is making huge strides, just like Ali, and I would like to get Scott in the team at some point this season.”
McKinnon hopes to have right-back Frank van der Struijk available for the Morton match despite the Dutchman playing the whole of the cup semi-final at Palmerston with a dead leg.
It turns out the villain of the piece was none other than teammate Simon Murray!
McKinnon said: “Frank is getting better and has an outside chance of playing on Saturday.
“There has been bleeding inside his leg but it is improving.
“Simon Murray ran into him – we knew it would be him! – before the match and gave him a dead leg.
“So all credit to Frank for playing through it.”
United are still waiting to find out when or if Coll Donaldson’s move to Poland will be completed.
The complication is that they want him on loan, which wasn’t the original intention.
The central defender has spent almost two weeks on trial at Bruk-Bet Termalica Nieciecza but the indications are that he is as likely to return to Scotland as he is to stay and sign a deal.
Meanwhile, it is understood that the high quality of the Fir Park playing surface was what clinched the decision to host the cup final against St Mirren there rather than at a more equidistant venue like East End Park.
Also, the rescheduled dates for two of United’s home fixtures have been confirmed.
They will host Ayr United on Tuesday, March 28, and face Dunfermline on Tuesday, April 11, both with 7.45 kick-offs.