DUNDEE United manager Jackie McNamara is confident his “fearless” young players can handle the occasion of their William Hill Scottish Cup semi-final against Rangers at Ibrox.
McNamara showed the depth of his faith in teenagers John Souttar and Ryan Gauld when he started both in last year’s semi-final against Celtic at Hampden, which United lost 4-3 after extra-time.
And the pair have gone on to become regulars for United this season alongside the likes of Scotland Under-21 captain Stuart Armstrong and left-back Andy Robertson, who turned 20 last month just after making his Scotland debut.
McNamara is trying to keep preparations for Saturday’s clash as normal as possible and he feels the mentality of his young players means they will not be overawed by the atmosphere in Govan.
Speaking before he was hit with a five-match touchline ban, McNamara said: “If you look back to last year, young Souttar and Gauld came in aged 16 and 17 to play in the semi-final, everyone thought that was incredible to start the game and come through it the way they have.
“What’s happened this season, not just the good things, the speculation about them going here and there, but also the negative stuff, having a wee blip and little injuries, these are things they are learning at such a young age. They are experiencing the highs as well as the lows, which is important.
“It comes down to fear. Some young players have not experienced fear or the pressures and disappointments that are on them from the fans and media.
“They have had a good taste of it this year but I still think they are fearless in their approach, which for me is the way it should be when they go out to play football.
“They should go and express themselves and try to win the game in the right way. That’s what will help them achieve their goals.”
United have trained as normal this week at their St Andrew’s University complex and McNamra has not noticed anyone getting carried away.
“There is no difference in them and it’s the way it should be,” the former Scotland international said. “If you start putting stuff into their heads and reading things in the paper, they probably wouldn’t sleep at night.
“The performance needs to be good from a good number of players, the concentration has to be spot-on and handling the occasion and not getting carried away, which is why we are trying to keep it as low key as possible. You want them to go and think the same like every other game.”
McNamara feels some of his players’ comments about their chances have been misrepresented and he stressed they knew the scale of their task following Rangers’ Ramsdens Cup final loss to Raith Rovers.
“We are under no illusion how hard it’s going to be,” he said. “The fallout from last weekend and the backlash that the players and manager have suffered has been pretty harsh, and for them it’s a massive thing for them this Saturday to put things right.”