Dundee United striker Nicky Clark is enjoying being seen as a “new player” by manager Robbie Neilson.
Clark scored the only goal of the game from the penalty against 10-man Queen of the South, having recovered from an injury which saw him miss most of the first part of the season.
He repaid Neilson’s faith in him by bagging the winner against his former team at Palmerston on Saturday to chalk up a hat-trick of victories for the Tangerines in February.
Clark said: “We made hard work of it in the second half and at times it looked as if we had 10 men and they had 11.
“However, we got the three points and that was the most important thing.
“It was a massive win and a big three points for us.
“It closes the gap on Ross County and also with Ayr, who drew their game.
“Only two teams have won at Palmerston all season in the league – us and Morton.
“We’ve now won twice at Palmerston and it’s a hard place to come.
“I had a good time at Queens in the past and scored a few goals.
“I was delighted to score the penalty.”
The defining moment came in 40 minutes when the home defenders Iain Wilson and Barry Maguire, on loan from Kilmarnock and Motherwell respectively, got themselves into trouble.
That allowed United’s Peter Pawlett to run through on goal.
Maguire then rugby-tackled the former Aberdeen midfielder to the ground and saw red from referee Andrew Dallas.
Clark stepped up and rammed home the penalty.
Clark said: “Queens changed their shape in the second half and had a go at us but we held out.”
United managed to snuff out the goal threat of the Doonhamers’ Stephen Dobbie, who had chances kept to a minimum and was unable to add to his incredible 38-goal tally of this season.
Clark added: “Dobbie is a great player but Morgaro Gomis stuck to him the whole game and the two centre-halves took care of him when he went further up the park.
“We knew he was the danger man and we stopped him well.”
The Tannadice side are fully focused at not just ensuring a play-off but have their sights set on the title and a return to the Premiership and, with manager Robbie Neilson having added well to the squad during the January window, are now reaping the rewards.
Clark said: “There were a lot of changes and sometimes it takes time for teams to gel but we’ve worked hard in training every day and got our heads down with shaping and are starting to see the benefits of it now.
“You need competition for places at big clubs and you can certainly see that by the players the manager has brought in.
“We have a big squad and it’s needed with the number of games coming up – a lot of big games. We need everybody to be match fit and ready to go.”
Meanwhile, Tangerines boss Neilson said: “Nicky (Clark) has been like a new player for us.
“He missed the majority of the start of the season with an Achiles injury and is still getting his fitness levels up but he is a player who brings real quality.”
It was Queen of the South’s first home defeat since October and dented their play-off hopes.
They rarely threatened and came closest in 71 minutes when Kyle Jacobs was denied an equaliser when his shot crashed back off the crossbar.
Jacobs said: “I thought it was going to hit the bar and go in. We need to start chipping in with goals from elsewhere rather than relying on Dobbie all the time.
“The boys gave everything but it just wasn’t to be. It’s a pretty tight league and fourth place is still where we are looking to be.”