Steven Fletcher has lamented the absence of “nastiness” in the Dundee United team as the Tannadice outfit career towards the Championship.
Barring a mathematical miracle, United’s relegation from the top flight will be confirmed when they travel to Motherwell on Sunday.
Their lamentable fate was all but sealed with a dire, meek 3-0 defeat against Kilmarnock in midweek — characterised by defensive errors and, in the words of boss Jim Goodwin, being “out-fought”.
Attempting to explain United’s dismal campaign, Fletcher remains steadfast in his belief that the Tangerines possess plenty of talent. However, he hinted that the squad are too nice.
“I’ve said it all season: it’s a good team and a good group of lads,” said Fletcher. “But sometimes that is not enough. When you cross that white line you need to roll up your sleeves and work for each other.
“We’ve got a great group of individual players who will probably have great careers — but you need to work as a team and push each other.
“I’ve worked with teams where we’ve maybe not had the quality, but we’ve worked together, fought through it and managed to get out the other side.”
He added: “Sometimes, without overstepping the line, you need a bit of nastiness in your team. We’ve got such a good group of lads, there is no one who just wants to…”
Fletcher trails off slightly, but punches one palm with his other fist.
The message is clear. Not enough fight.
He continues: “It’s quite a young group and it’s going to hit them. I’m an older, experienced lad. I kind of know how to take it.
“But some of them? It might not hit them for a week or two, then suddenly, “I’m not going to be playing in the Premiership anymore”.
“All the lads need to go and have a hard look at themselves and see where they want to be in their careers — because it is definitely not down there (the Championship).”
Wednesday night’s defeat against Killie was, in all likelihood, the final time Fletcher will feature this season.
The 36-year-old was a shock selection by Goodwin, belying a slight groin tear to line up in attack when, in normal circumstances, his campaign would have been sensibly declared over.
Remarkably, Fletcher played through the pain barrier to complete the entire match and, while his impact was limited, there was no way he was going to sit at home for United’s final Hail Mary.
“I had a little tear in my groin but I found it hard enough at the weekend (defeat at Livingston) sitting in the house watching it,” he reflected. “It was a risk and it didn’t pay off because I didn’t do much in the game. But I couldn’t just sit at home.”
Fletcher, meanwhile, remains contracted to United until the summer of 2024.
However, it would be fair to surmise that the former Sunderland, Wolves and Marseille striker never envisioned spending a portion of his twilight years in the second tier of Scottish football.
He is also on a Premiership salary; in common with a host of United first-team players who have deals running beyond this summer.
He added: “We’ve still got another game to go in this league so I’ll take each day as it comes just now. I didn’t see this coming. I’ll sit down with the family — but I’ve still got another year here. I’m contracted to the club.”