DUNDEE United manager Jackie McNamara is set to appeal a five-match touchline ban, allowing him to take his place in the technical area at Ibrox tomorrow for his team’s William Hill Scottish Cup semi-final against Rangers.
McNamara did not attend yesterday’s SFA disciplinary hearing at Hampden yesterday, where he was given an immediate three-game ban, with two more matches suspended, after his part in a touchline altercation with St Johnstone’s Tommy Wright last month was deemed a breach of Rule 203 that is defined as “misconduct at a match by the repeated use of offensive, insulting and abusive language”. Wright escaped with a suspended one-game ban.
It seems certain that United will appeal the decision, which would lead to a further hearing in two week’s time and leave McNamara free to take his place on the sidelines at Ibrox. “I am obviously disappointed,” McNamara said. “I will be discussing the matter with the club and we will consider whether or not to appeal. I would have liked to have attended the hearing in person and asked for it to be held over until the afternoon. As it was, I felt it was impossible for me as Dundee United manager to miss our training two days ahead of a Scottish Cup semi-final.”
McNamara also insisted the presence of 12,000 Dundee United supporters will not alter his view that his team’s semi-final at Ibrox tomorrow remains a home game for Rangers.
The SFA’s controversial decision not to seek an alternative venue for the last-four cup tie once Rangers progressed to it has been offset, in the eyes of some, because United will have fans in two of the four Ibrox seating sections – areas in the Govan Stand given over to the Tannadice club after they sold out the entire Broomloan Stand. That suggestion cuts no ice with McNamara, however. “It is a home game for them,” said the United manager, with the League 1 title winners believed to have shifted 26,000 tickets.
“We’ll take a good crowd down but, ultimately, Rangers are at home. If it had been at Tannadice, it would be our home game. I’m not talking about tickets or the crowd, I just mean it’s their home park, they play there every second week. They’re used to it. I’m not looking for excuses, it’s just a fact. It’s for us to go down there and take the game to them. And for me, it’s a great occasion for the players to go and play there. The young team that we are, it’s exciting, so go and enjoy it.”
United are certainly expected to relish the occasion, with no outcome other than a victory for the leading top-flight side against lower division opponents anticipated. Indeed, even playing at Ibrox could be a mixed blessing for Ally McCoist’s men when their followers are baying for blood in the wake of the Ramsdens Cup final defeat at the hands of Raith Rovers last Sunday.
“You could see it that way or it could have the exact opposite affect with their fans getting right behind them after what happened last weekend and the amount of stick they have taken; not just from their own fans but other supporters as well,” said McNamara.
“I don’t read too much into talk about their players not being good enough or the manager being at fault. My approach hasn’t changed. Possibly Rangers losing at the weekend makes our life even more difficult, given the stick they’ve taken.
“Ally and his players will be hurting from that and will see this as the perfect way to respond, which it is. You lose, the best thing to do is get back up and win – especially in a game like this, with the chance to get to a final.
“Any fan, if you gave them a choice between winning the Ramsdens Cup and getting to the Scottish Cup final, there wouldn’t be any comparison. This game was always going to be important than the Ramsdens Cup final. I am not getting too carried away with their result last week because I know it will be a different Rangers that will turn up.”
And the United manager is convinced the Championship-bound Rangers that do turn up will be an improvement on the side that singularly failed to do so when the teams met in the fifth round of the Scottish Cup last February. In McNamara’s first game in charge, he enjoyed the perfect start to his tenure at the top-flight club with a 3-0 thumping of the then fourth-tier Ibrox side.
“I think they are a better team than the last time we faced them. I think they’ve shown that,” he said. “They’ve gone up a league, they’ve only lost two games, in extra time in cups. They’re stronger and they’ve scored more goals. But, again, I only worry about my own side. I make sure we’re prepared and relaxed, ignore the headlines and all the talk about who is favourites.
“Before we played Inverness, everybody had us as fifth favourites, behind Aberdeen, Rangers, St Johnstone and Inverness.
“Suddenly, because they’ve had a bad result last Sunday, we’re everybody’s favourite to beat Rangers. But nothing has changed for me from last week to this week. We know it will be a hard game, I know they will be more fired up – if you can get more fired up for a home game.”
McNamara wants his players to avoid becoming too hyped up for a tie that will require discipline and the “concentration” he felt was lacking in losing a goal within five minutes on their way to a 2-0 home defeat by Celtic last week. And he is hopeful that his experience of playing derby matches at Ibrox with the Parkhead club can help his players.
“They shouldn’t let it worry them,” McNamara said of the trip to Glasgow’s south side. “I know there has been a lot of attention this week but they have to go out there and enjoy the occasion. They have to make sure they don’t freeze and that is the crucial part of it. It is important they stay relaxed because I know it can be quite difficult. I remember I used to worry coming up to Old Firm games but as I got older I tried not to think about it and just turned up on the day and played.”