Arsenal are understood to have joined the race for Dundee United youngster Ryan Gauld and will run the rule over the teenager at this evening’s William Hill Scottish Cup fourth-round tie against Kilmarnock.
Manchester United, Liverpool, Everton and Real Madrid have all watched Gauld this season, with the 17-year-old fast becoming the hottest young property in Scottish football after a string of impressive performances.
Last Saturday, Gauld had assists in all four United goals in a 4-1 Premiership drubbing of Partick Thistle before being helped off. He is set to shake off a knee injury in time to face Kilmarnock tonight, when he’ll be given another opportunity to enhance his growing reputation.
Arsenal will send a scout north to watch the match, while a report yesterday also claimed that one Italian side has recently lodged an interest with United, and two leading Bundesliga clubs – one of which plays in the Champions League – will make bids in January. Gauld signed a new, long-term contract at Tannadice a few weeks ago.
Of course, United manager Jackie McNamara won’t get caught up in the fuss surrounding Gauld and has called on his side to carry on their fine run of form in tonight’s tie.
United are enjoying a purple patch which saw them move up into fourth place in the Scottish Premiership thanks to the win over Partick. Now they welcome Allan Johnston’s side to Tayside for the fourth-round tie, and McNamara has challenged them to reproduce the form they’ve been showing in recent weeks as they bid to progress in the cup.
He said: “It’s a big game. We’ll approach it as we do every one, by trying to win it. Our form recently has been good which is obviously something we are going to try to continue. It’s about what we do and we always focus on ourselves. This game will be no different, especially with what is at stake for the club. It’s one we’re looking forward to and, hopefully, it’s a positive night for us.”
United gave their fans a treat with last Saturday’s convincing win over Thistle and McNamara wants their loyal followers to act as their extra man when Kilmarnock visit Tannadice. He said: “It helps a lot. The fans have a big part to play. They turned out in good numbers last weekend and we’re hoping they’ll do the same this time. We all want the same for the club which is to see a winning Dundee United team.
“I think they appreciate what we’re trying to do, which is to win games and play well at the same time. Hopefully, we can do the same again on Friday although we know it won’t be easy.”
McNamara knows that Kilmarnock have been struggling in the SPFL this season but insists the cup is a different ball game.
He said: “I still think Kilmarnock have a lot of good players, even though they have not been getting the kind of results they want. Allan likes them to play football and we know we can’t take anything for granted. We’ll have to be careful as anything can happen in a cup tie.”
United hope Gavin Gunning recovers from a knee injury in time to start, while both Stuart Armstrong and Gary Mackay-Steven should shake off knocks to feature. On-loan United midfielder Michael Gardyne is ineligible to face United as part of the agreement between the clubs.
Kilmarnock’s assistant manager Sandy Clark insists his players are not low on confidence and self-belief, despite their difficult start to the season.
They suffered another setback last weekend in the shape of a 2-0 defeat to Motherwell but Clark says that Kilmarnock are ready to pick themselves up and go again at Tannadice this evening.
He said: “We looked closely at last week’s game. The goals were horrendous and we did look vulnerable at other times in the match. We are trying to work on that and we have to stop that happening.
“When you look at the attacking play, we actually played a lot of good football. There is no reason why we can’t go into the game with confidence and know we are capable of doing well. The players’ spirits are fine.
“There is no point telling lies to anybody. We have got failings within the team and it’s mainly in the defensive area. We came to the club and we didn’t have any centre-backs with experience and the ones we have brought in have been injured or suspended.
“We had Manuel Pascali playing at the back last week and Jackson Irvine has played at the back.
“It’s been nothing other than bad luck that we can’t get a settled back four and we’ve still got issues there for tomorrow.
“But that’s no excuse. We’ve got to be more solid as a team to give us a chance of winning games.”
The cup competition may provide some respite from league action, but Clark knows Kilmarnock could scarcely have asked for a tougher fourth-round tie.
He added: “It’s a different kind of pressure. You look at the way things have been for us and we’ve not had a lot of breaks. In the Scottish Cup draw, we got another Premier League club who are doing well. It’s not ideal but that’s what happens when you’re in the situation we are in. But it’s a game where we can go and express ourselves.
“United are a good team and we think we’ve got good players who are capable of doing well against them.
“It’s a cup tie so it’s a slightly different focus, as in you’ve got to make sure you get stuck in and do things right, and that’s what we will certainly be trying to do.”