Jackie McNamara: Celtic triple-bill on back burner

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DUNDEE United manager Jackie McNamara insists his players are not thinking about their upcoming meetings with Celtic just yet as they gear up for today’s visit of St Johnstone in the Scottish Premiership.

United are approaching a crucial stage in the season, with Saints the visitors before further home games with Inverness on Tuesday and then Partick Thistle next weekend.

Jackie McNamara is fully focused on St Johnstone's visit today. Picture: SNS

Jackie McNamara is fully focused on St Johnstone's visit today. Picture: SNS

After that they take on champions Celtic on no fewer than three occasions, including their Scottish Cup quarter-final tie on 8 March before their League Cup final clash at Hampden on 15 March.

It has the potential to shape their season but McNamara is adamant his team will focus firstly on their upcoming matches before turning their attention towards Ronny Deila’s side.

He said: “It’s a big spell coming up but it’s all about taking one game at a time.

“There is nobody in the dressing room talking about the Celtic games because we have of plenty important matches to contend with before then.

“Saturday’s match is getting our full attention first and foremost. Whenever you play St Johnstone, you have to be up for the battle if you want to get the right result.

“They pushed Celtic all the way last weekend and never gave up trying to get an equaliser, so we know what to expect having been in front at McDiarmid Park recently only to lose the match in the end. We have to be ready for it.”

United sit fourth in the table and McNamara hopes they can keep their proud home record going over the coming weeks, having lost only once this season back in December to Aberdeen.

He said: “We’re looking forward to being back at home. That is a positive as far as we’re concerned.

“We’ve got three important games coming up so the aim is to get the maximum points.

“It’s important we keep that momentum going, starting with a difficult match on Saturday. It’s not just about pride. It’s about believing you can do it.

“When we first came in, we had a real problem winning matches at home. But we’ve turned that around and have got a good record now.

“Now we’ve got our home form going, we just need to sort our away form out. If we can do that, then we should be doing all right.

“I think there were a number of things that didn’t help the home form to begin with. Now, though, I feel the boys are enjoying it and are more comfortable.

“Hopefully we can get another good result at home for the supporters.”

United are without injured centre-back Callum Morris but Polish stopper Jarek Fojut returns from suspension.

Striker Mario Bilate and defender John Souttar are still missing through injury.

Meanwhile, Chris Millar has helped St Johnstone make progress in every season he has spent in Perth and is determined to ensure they do not regress by failing to secure a top-six finish.

The midfielder joined Saints from Morton in 2008 when they were in the First Division.

However, that soon changed after a First Division title triumph and Millar helped St Johnstone establish themselves as a top-flight club.

Millar was then part of a team that secured a hat-trick of top-six finishes and regular European qualification, before bringing the club’s first major trophy home with last season’s William Hill Scottish Cup success.

But Saints’ defence of the trophy ended two weeks ago against Queen of the South and they slipped out of the top half of the Scottish Premiership the following week at the expense of an in-form Dundee side.

Faced with a genuine challenge for a top-six place from the Dens Park side, Millar is desperate to maintain the Perth club’s status.

Speaking ahead of the trip to Tannadice, Millar said: “Dundee are on a good run of form. They have good players and a good team.

“We are looking to catch them and Hamilton ahead of us. We have been a wee bit inconsistent since the turn of the year and we want to get back to winning ways so this is a big game.

“It’s a local derby too and we want to get back into the top six. We have fallen out of it for the first time since early in the season.

“Going out of the cups was disappointing this year against Rangers and Queen of the South but we have still got a lot to play for.

“Top six is the priority for us. It’s more money for the club and you play against the teams at the top end of the table once the split kicks in. You want to be involved in that and since I’ve been here we have always pushed on each year.

“After having such a good year last year by winning the cup, we want to finish top six again and have something to play for.”

Millar recently extended his St Johnstone contract and wants to make sure the success story continues.

“It’s a good club and we have progressed every year and we don’t want to finish outside the top six,” he said.

“Obviously the main aim at the start of every season is to stay in the Premier League but we have established ourselves over the past few years as a top-six side and we want to keep that going.”

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