Ian Harkes is adamant he retains the ‘hunger and desire’ to reclaim his Dundee United starting berth following a period of self-reflection.
Harkes, 27, was named United player of the year last season after notching four goals and three assists from 37 appearances.
A derby winner against Dundee, rippling the net at Celtic Park and a decisive strike against Aberdeen were standout moments.
However, the American midfielder has struggled to hit those heights as part of a toiling Tangerines outfit this term — and has often found himself the subject of criticism from disgruntled supporters.
Having previously been among the first names on the team-sheet, Harkes was relegated to the bench for United’s last six fixtures.
Rather than be disillusioned, the former DC United man has focused on his failings.
“Every player is trying to get their place in the starting line-up,” Harkes told Courier Sport. “I came out of the team and, when that happens, you need to take a look at yourself and try to improve.
“Then, when you get another chance to come in and help the team, you have to make the most of that opportunity. That is what I tried to do on Saturday.
“We need to build as a team and I, personally, will always be trying to get better.
“That time out of the team gives you a bit of time to see where you can help, and look at certain areas where you need to demand more from yourself.
“I’ve taken a look at myself in general, as a midfielder, and worked on my weaknesses in training.”
He added: “I’ve always had that hunger and desire to get back in and perform well. You need to look at everything as a positive challenge.”
Harkes entered the fray at half-time in the Terrors’ 1-0 defeat against Motherwell on Saturday — his second successive outing from the bench — and made a heartening impact.
He sought to break the lines and get close to Steven Fletcher, and forced an excellent near-post save from Liam Kelly as United sought parity.
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“It was a good chance and the goalkeeper (Kelly) has done well,” recalled Harkes. “I just tried to connect with it well after combining with Fletch (Steven Fletcher) in the box.
“A bit of space opened up and I tried to take advantage.
“I’m happy to be getting in those areas and I’ll always try to do that — but we need to start putting those chances away.
“We kept the pressure on and the desire and intensity was ramped up. When you are chasing the game, that naturally happens — but we need to start games with that mentality.”
United slipped to the bottom of the league following defeat against the Steelmen — but were bailed out by Hearts’ win at Ross County that ensured the Highlanders are back to propping up the Premiership.
However, Harkes has sought to accentuate the positives from a third successive defeat in all competitions.
“The way we played in the second half proves that we CAN get on top of teams,” he added.
“We need to do that more often and make sure key moments don’t slip away from us. We were kicking ourselves and we can’t let it keep happening.”