MARK Wilson remembers being embroiled in relegation dogfights with rivals Aberdeen – so the Dundee United defender can’t wait to lock horns in the race for Europe.
Wilson, whose first spell at Tannadice spanned 2000-2006 before he clinched a dream move to Celtic, was often scrapping for survival with United and admits their east-coast rivals were in an even poorer state back then.
Now, though, the former Scotland international is preparing to head for Pittodrie today in his second stint with United, knowing that a win would cut the gap on second-top Aberdeen to just two points. It’s a far cry from the days when the two clubs were languishing near the foot of the top flight, but Wilson couldn’t be happier about the upturn in fortunes which today’s teams are experiencing.
“This is probably the best shape I can remember both Dundee United and Aberdeen being in going into one of these matches,” he said. “When I first started playing in them we were both at the bottom end of the table. At United we weren’t having a great time and Aberdeen were worse than us.
“We had a few relegation battles. They were important games but you’d much rather be going into matches at the top end of the table. It has turned around now and it’s great to see the clubs up there competing with each other again. It sounds rubbish saying it, but we should be competing for second place.
“Everyone would love it to get back to the 1980s when United and Aberdeen were competing for titles and in the latter stages of Europe. But that’s not going to happen. As it is these days, competing against each other for places in Europe and to finish high up the league is an improvement on what’s happened for much of the last ten or 15 years. So the fans will be enjoying it and it’s good to repay them.
“Both clubs had been guilty of too many bottom six finishes so the supporters will be able to enjoy these games a bit more these days. We both like to play good football and they have been good games, so it’s definitely one people will be looking forward to.”
Wilson reckons today’s game of the day in the Granite City is what fans are crying out for given the recent demise of the Old Firm derby as well as the decline in standards between the two clubs in Edinburgh. Dons chairman Stewart Milne called for teams to try to mount a title challenge to champions Celtic in the future in the wake of Aberdeen’s recent League Cup triumph.
While Wilson would love to see that happen, the 29-year-old is realistic enough to know that would be a huge ask.
He said: “The fans want a rivalry. Celtic and Rangers is gone for the moment and Hearts v Hibs has died away a bit as well. So Dundee United v Aberdeen is the next one which drums up a bit of interest.
“The game here on New Year’s Day which Aberdeen won wasn’t the best match but it was a full house and the atmosphere was fantastic. It’s a big rivalry and I think there will be a big crowd this weekend.”
Aberdeen defender Joe Shaughnessy certainly believes United are still a threat to the Dons’ hopes of finishing best of the rest in the Premiership.
Derek McInnes’s side are battling with Motherwell for second place behind Celtic but the Irishman is aware that the Tannadice side are on their shoulder as the race for the European spot enters the final furlong.
The Dons are one point ahead of Stuart McCall’s side and five ahead of United, albeit they have played a game more.
The 21-year-old told RedTV: “United have had a really good season, they have been up there all season and they have a lot of exciting players who are on a good run, playing well. So we are well aware that they are capable of finishing above us so we just need to go out and perform and do our job. There is always a lot at stake wherever the teams are in the table when we play each other, so this just adds a bit more spice to the game. I think it will be really exciting.”
Shaughnessy insists the Pittodrie side’s last two matches have shown that they will not give up second place without a fight. The Dons came from behind against Kilmarnock to win 2-1 last week and fought back for a draw at Ross County in midweek after falling a goal behind. Shaughnessy added: “You can see in all of our performances the team spirit we have in our team. Everyone is working towards getting the results and we’ve been doing well.”
Shaughnessy admits emotions are still running high after the League Cup final win over Inverness with a sense of excitement also enveloping the club as they look forward to a Scottish Cup semi-final against St Johnstone next month. He said: “It has been quite an exciting couple of weeks and to get the cup final win was really good.
“It’s nice to have a bit of success after the last few years. Everyone is loving the excitement and wanting to be involved. But we’re taking it one game at a time, focusing on that one game to get that job done and move on to the next one and hopefully we’ll keep on getting results.”