Calendar An icon of a desk calendar. Cancel An icon of a circle with a diagonal line across. Caret An icon of a block arrow pointing to the right. Email An icon of a paper envelope. Facebook An icon of the Facebook "f" mark. Google An icon of the Google "G" mark. Linked In An icon of the Linked In "in" mark. Logout An icon representing logout. Profile An icon that resembles human head and shoulders. Telephone An icon of a traditional telephone receiver. Tick An icon of a tick mark. Is Public An icon of a human eye and eyelashes. Is Not Public An icon of a human eye and eyelashes with a diagonal line through it. Pause Icon A two-lined pause icon for stopping interactions. Quote Mark A opening quote mark. Quote Mark A closing quote mark. Arrow An icon of an arrow. Folder An icon of a paper folder. Breaking An icon of an exclamation mark on a circular background. Camera An icon of a digital camera. Caret An icon of a caret arrow. Clock An icon of a clock face. Close An icon of the an X shape. Close Icon An icon used to represent where to interact to collapse or dismiss a component Comment An icon of a speech bubble. Comments An icon of a speech bubble, denoting user comments. Comments An icon of a speech bubble, denoting user comments. Ellipsis An icon of 3 horizontal dots. Envelope An icon of a paper envelope. Facebook An icon of a facebook f logo. Camera An icon of a digital camera. Home An icon of a house. Instagram An icon of the Instagram logo. LinkedIn An icon of the LinkedIn logo. Magnifying Glass An icon of a magnifying glass. Search Icon A magnifying glass icon that is used to represent the function of searching. Menu An icon of 3 horizontal lines. Hamburger Menu Icon An icon used to represent a collapsed menu. Next An icon of an arrow pointing to the right. Notice An explanation mark centred inside a circle. Previous An icon of an arrow pointing to the left. Rating An icon of a star. Tag An icon of a tag. Twitter An icon of the Twitter logo. Video Camera An icon of a video camera shape. Speech Bubble Icon A icon displaying a speech bubble WhatsApp An icon of the WhatsApp logo. Information An icon of an information logo. Plus A mathematical 'plus' symbol. Duration An icon indicating Time. Success Tick An icon of a green tick. Success Tick Timeout An icon of a greyed out success tick. Loading Spinner An icon of a loading spinner. Facebook Messenger An icon of the facebook messenger app logo. Facebook An icon of a facebook f logo. Facebook Messenger An icon of the Twitter app logo. LinkedIn An icon of the LinkedIn logo. WhatsApp Messenger An icon of the Whatsapp messenger app logo. Email An icon of an mail envelope. Copy link A decentered black square over a white square.

Talking Football: Almost game over for Dundee United

Yet more defensive lapses against Celtic last week have left United in a desperate position.
Yet more defensive lapses against Celtic last week have left United in a desperate position.

From defensive mistakes to thrills at Firhill, from a majestic Harkins performance to St Johnstone’s search for a goal, The Courier sports writers discuss the burning issues…

Q Is it reasonable to suggest that if Dundee United don’t beat Kilmarnock on Saturday then it’s game over for them as far as Premiership survival goes?

IR: I would agree that it would be reasonable to say that because the games are running out. It may still be January but after this weekend United will have only 15 league fixtures left. They need to throw everything at Killie and if they can win then there will be some renewed hope.

EN: Absolutely. Something has to happen to reverse this descent that has felt never-ending. You get the feeling that there are United players themselves who feel it is all but over. Had they been four points away from second bottom rather than 14, I’m not so sure Chris Erskine would have signed a pre-contract agreement with Partick Thistle.

NR: Even if United do win, I still believe that like Steve McQueen in the Great Escape, they will ultimately come up short. A victory over Killie would cut the gap to 11 points but that still means the Tangerines would need to win another four games without the Ayrshire side taking a point in their matches to overtake them. At no stage this season have United suggested they are capable of going on such a sustained run.

Q Mixu Paatelainen has stressed how much work has been done on defending but still United’s mistakes continue. Any suggestions regarding how to banish the blunders?

IR: It was painful to watch some of the defending against Celtic, the lowlights being Gavin Gunning’s slip at the first goal and the terrible marking at both the second and third. You hope the players are absorbing their manager’s instructions and advice and trying to carry out those orders on the park. There wasn’t much evidence of that last time out, however.

EN: The word from the training ground is that there has been no lack of work on shape, tactics and fitness under Mixu but when the mistakes are as basic and endemic as United’s you have to come to the conclusion that either confidence has been shattered beyond repair or some of the players just aren’t good enough. Or both.

NR: Any manager can only do so much on the training pitch to eradicate mistakes and, once the whistle blows, it is up to the players themselves to take responsibility. Too often this season, United players have been lacking in that department and individual mistakes continue to cost them dear.

Q It was Firhill for thrills for Dundee on Saturday. Can they stay in the top six and maybe even push up a place or two?

IR: It is amazing what a couple of wins can do for both your confidence and your league position! Dundee will be looking up the way but even if they can stay sixth then they can be well pleased with that.

EN: Of course they can. Dundee are a joy to watch when everything clicks, like it did on Saturday. If Harkins, Stewart and Hemmings are all at their best the Dark Blues are a match for anyone, with the possible exception of Celtic. A Tayside battle between St Johnstone and Dundee for fourth and fifth could be on the cards.

NR: Victory over Partick secured Dundee back-to-back wins for the first time this season and Dens boss Paul Hartley will be hoping that can be the springboard to a sustained run of success. With St Johnstone struggling in recent weeks and Ross County having lost their last two league games, the Dark Blues could capitalise.

Q What are you Harkins on about? It was the Gary show against Partick but can he and his team-mates do the same to Aberdeen at Pittodrie tomorrow night?

IR: Harkins looked like he loved every minute of that Thistle game but it will be tougher for him to get time and space in the centre of the park against the Dons. Aberdeen produced one of the best team performances I have seen this season when they won at Dens in December and it was their midfield that clinched the match for them.

EN: It’s incredible to think that somebody who played as well as Harkins did at Firhill could have been so far out of the picture a while ago. That probably sums up his inconsistency and the problem his manager has had at getting the best out of him on a regular basis, or even nailing down his best position. Aberdeen won’t give Harkins the same freedom though. But it isn’t a case of stop Harkins and you stop Dundee. There are plenty of other game-changers. I can see them getting a draw.

NR: Dundee have lost their two games so far against the Dons and on both occasions failed to score against Derek McInnes’s side. Aberdeen will start as favourites again but the Dark Blues will be buoyed by their last two results and, like Eric, I have a sneaking suspicion that they might get a draw especially as the Dons midfield will be without the injured Willo Flood and skipper Ryan Jack while defender Mark Reynolds is suspended.

Q Have St Johnstone implemented a goals ban and not told anyone other than their strikers?

IR: It is a bit of mystery, isn’t it? Five matches without scoring? It looks like they were in danger of using up their goals quota too early so have had to ease off…

EN: There’s no doubt that Michael O’Halloran’s dip in form over the last few weeks has played a part. The heavy McDiarmid Park pitch hasn’t suited Steven MacLean, Chris Kane has gone quiet, John Sutton can’t buy a bit of luck and Graham Cummins is rediscovering his match sharpness. One of them will come good soon to get Saints going again (though maybe not Celtic Park soon).

NR: Considering Saints had put eight past Hamilton in the first two games of the season between the sides, it was a major surprise that they could not end their goal drought against Accies on Saturday. To be fair, they came mighty close when John Sutton’s late header was cleared off the line but St Johnstone have to start creating more chances if they hope to end this goal famine.

Q Saints appear to have a rising star in their midst in the form of 20-year-old Craig Thomson. Is it right to talk him up after just one start?

IR: At 20, he is old enough to handle a bit of media attention (people have served years in the army by that age blah, blah, blah). By all accounts, he is pretty well grounded so there is no problem handing out credit when it is deserved.

EN: Ian’s right. Having spoken to him earlier this week, he does indeed seem a well grounded young man. And he’s fast. Even if you’ve not got a trick, pace will take a winger a long way. Saints fans, who will be patient with him, have been spoiled by good wide men down the years with the likes of Maskrey, Moore, Jenkinson and now O’Halloran. The early signs are that Thomson could be the next.

NR: I was covering the Saints game on Saturday and Thomson was a rare shining light on what was overall a dreary draw. Team-mate Murray Davidson was fulsome in his praise of the wide man afterwards and on this evidence he could become an important player for the Perth side however like most wingers consistency will be the key.

Q That was a gutsy display by 10-man Aberdeen to beat Ross County 3-2, while Celtic have looked pretty slick of late. Do we really have a title race or are we deluding ourselves?

IR: While I have been hugely impressed by the Pittodrie men at times, the Hoops were excellent against United and with ruthless timing they have just signed a Danish international defender for £1.5 million. Ouch take that Aberdeen!

EN: We’re back on this one again, are we! The race for second will be a good one, given Hearts’ recent form. There isn’t one on for first I’m afraid.

NR: That game against the Staggies was one I would have put money on Aberdeen losing after being reduced to 10 men but they showed they may just be made of the right stuff by battling to win. However, Celtic once again extended their lead at the top of the table to six points following their Tuesday night demolition of Hamilton at Parkhead and it is hard to see the Hoops letting that advantage slip.