Neil McCann wants Dundee to face United with a swagger

Neil McCann knows all about the Dundee derby as a player. Picture: SNS.
Neil McCann knows all about the Dundee derby as a player. Picture: SNS.
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So little seems to change about Dundee derbies that it’s genuinely surprising to note tomorrow’s clash at Dens Park merits being described as historic.

Not since the 1950s have Dundee contested such a game while in a higher division than their neighbours.

A 1-0 Forfarshire Cup win in 1958 was the last occasion. Strictly speaking, the last meeting that truly mattered in these circumstances was as far back as 1956 – a League Cup quarter-final over two legs where the Dark Blues underlined their higher status by triumphing 8-5 on aggregate.

So it seems reasonable to wonder how Dundee might cope with the pressure of being out-and-out favourites in tomorrow’s Betfred Cup Group C fixture. It’s a rare occurrence. Not even in recent league meetings as United battled to avoid relegation – a battle they duly lost at Dens Park of all places on 2 May, 2016 – has the role of underdogs been so clearly defined.

United are unsurprisingly keen to make a mockery of the tag. Whether the Championship side manage to do so or not could hinge on how comfortable Dundee are wearing the mantle of favourites. It’s been a long, long time since they were quite so heavily favoured by bookies going into a Dundee derby.

“I don’t think it brings any pressure,” insisted manager Neil McCann yesterday. “If the boys are worried about being favourites because they are the Premiership side then I don’t think they are in the right place. They should embrace it.

“They should be walking out there with a swagger. Dundee United might use these words to motivate them and fire them up. I don’t really care. They know themselves they are the Championship side. They will want to come over and put one over on us. There is nothing wrong with being confident.

“As long as you are not disrespectful to the opposition team or fans or players then there is nothing wrong with being confident going into a match.

“We know Dundee United, we know their threats,” he added. “Billy King wide, [Paul] McMullan comes in off the side. I like [Scott] Fraser as a footballer, I think Sam Stanton is a really good player, [Scott] McDonald has signed. We will absolutely respect them as a side. But the flip side of that is that we know how good we are.”

Except for Craig Wighton, who could miss the entire season after sustaining a knee ligament injury, McCann reported no injury worries for Dundee. Faissal El Bakhtaoui is back after missing the midweek 3-0 win over Cowdenbeath with a knock sustained last weekend.

Tomorrow will be the first time since Paul Hegarty and Jim Duffy were in opposing dugouts in 2002 that both managers have had Dundee derby experience as players.

McCann and Ray McKinnon played against each other in the mid-90s, with the former recalling a 3-2 Dundee victory at Tannadice when both teams were in what was then the First Division. After one of their goals, several Dundee players, including McCann, joined in a ‘duck walk’ celebration at the home of their greatest rivals.

That young, irrepressible winger has now become a responsible manager. McCann is relishing the chance to lead Dundee in such a game.

“I have good memories of the derby, and playing here,” said McCann. “Normally it is a long build-up when people start getting a wee bit edgy. But this one has been quite good because I have not allowed them [the players] to think about Dundee United.

“Now it is full steam ahead and thinking nothing but Dundee United. It is not about Ross County [Dundee’s first league opponents next Saturday], it is Dundee United.”