Dundee United’s Nicky Clark is under no illusions about the importance of tonight’s game against Ross County at Tannadice, admitting it is in the “must-win” category.
The Tangerines’ hopes of automatic promotion back to the top-flight hang by a thread with Robbie Neilson’s side sitting second top of the Championship, 11 points behind the Staggies.
United missed out on a chance to cut that gap on Saturday when their game at Dunfermline was called off because of a waterlogged pitch, 24 hours after County’s match at Inverness had suffered a similar fate.
Now, striker Clark, who has scored five times in the last six games, is desperate to make up ground by beating the Staggies tonight.
The 27-year-old said: “We have made it really hard for ourselves this year. Ross County have done well and all credit to them.
“But this is a must-win for us and we have to try to close the gap as much as we can.
“We can’t though just go gung-ho and leave ourselves open at the back early on.
“We need to play the game properly and we know what we are good at and what our strengths are.
“If we play the way we can play with the lads that we have in our squad, then we should be fine.
“But Ross County also have a really good squad so we have to be prepared for what they are going to throw at us.
“At the end of the day, we do need to win the game so if it gets to the stage where we need to go for it, then we have to do that.”
United go into the game having lost their last two matches at Partick Thistle in the league and the week previously against Inverness at home in the Scottish Cup.
And Clark admits that if any extra incentive was needed against the Staggies, it comes from a desire to make amends to the club’s faithful fans.
He added: “The supporters deserve better than what we have shown in the last few weeks.
“We had an unbelievable crowd in for the Inverness game and we let them down. The boys were all sick afterwards. It was a great chance of us in a quarter-final but we didn’t perform at all.
“Again, away at Thistle last week was very disappointing for us.
“So we have something to prove to the fans and we need to have a really good reaction.
“It would be great to have a good crowd again and I’m sure there will be.”
Clark admitted that all the United players were disappointed at the late call-off of the Dunfermline game but he acknowledged that considering the heavy state of the East End Park pitch, the postponement may have been a blessing in disguise.
Clark said: “We were off the bus and into the dressing-room before going out briefly to look at the pitch.
“It was then that they made the decision so yes, it was a little bit frustrating especially for our fans who would already have left to come down to support us.
“When we saw the pitch we immediately thought there was no chance it would be on.
“But if it had, it was a really heavy pitch and we would have had to work very hard for 90 minutes.
“So with this massive game coming up on Tuesday, it maybe was a blessing in disguise that it was called off.”
Ross County were dealt a big blow at the end of last month when top scorer Billy Mckay was ruled out for the season after suffering a broken arm against Ayr.
However, another former United striker Brian Graham has scored twice in their two games since then.
Clark is fully aware of the dangers the Highland side pose but is more concerned with his own team and helping them pick up the much-needed points.
He said: “County have a good, competitive squad and you need that if you want to win leagues.
“Billy was obviously a big loss for them but the boys who have come in have done well.
“Big Brian has scored a couple of goals so we know what their threats will be.
“But we just need to concentrate on ourselves and we know what we need to do.”
Clark added: “It is going well for me at the moment.
“I am obviously enjoying scoring goals but overall the most important thing at this stage of the season is picking up three points.
“We were gutted last week because a last-minute goal has cost us again.
“We had chances before that to win the game.”