DUNDEE United midfielder Paul Paton is refusing to rule out a Tannadice title challenge after the Arabs finally figured out a way to win ugly.
Jackie McNamara’s team were the undoubted style kings of the Scottish Premiership last year.
But Paton admits the Tangerines would stumble if they did not get every step of their free-flowing game in sync.
Now, having beaten city rivals Dundee twice in four days – firstly with Sunday’s 4-1 Dens Park romp on league duty, followed by Wednesday’s last-gasp 1-0 League Cup victory at Tannadice – Paton believes United have finally found the key to consistent success.
He said: “On Sunday we were really good and right on it. On Wednesday, we were not as good.
“We relied on a great penalty save from Rado Cierzniak as well as a sending-off for Dundee to give us the kick up the backside.
“But we have won two derbies in four days and that is all the matters.
“That is the biggest difference I have noticed in my time here. Last season we got a lot of plaudits when we were doing well but when we weren’t at it, we dropped points. Now we have found a way to win ugly.
“When I first arrived here, everything had to be spot-on – free-flowing football – to get a win. Now there are times when we are not as good but the wins are still coming.”
Paton credits the summer additions made by McNamara for the Terrors’ turnaround, saying: “There were times last year when we were not playing well and a goal never looked like coming.
“But we have players now who are a threat from set-pieces. Jaroslaw Fojut showed what he can do with the winner against Dundee on Wednesday.
“Callum Morris is another who can threaten from corners and free kicks, so we have a new weapon there.
“We have a wee bit more muscle, a bit more steel, about us now.”
United face another derby this afternoon as they host Tayside rivals St Johnstone, but will strut into the match knowing they are joint league leaders with Inverness and sit five points ahead of Celtic – albeit having played a game more.
Asked if his side were realistic title challengers, Paton refused to count out any possibilities.
“It’s realistic to think we can win every game we go into,” he said. “Where that takes us I don’t know because Celtic are massive favourites.
“To get anywhere near them would be a big achievement. We will just take every game as they come and see where we end up.”
Meanwhile, Lee Croft admits St Johnstone’s first ever Scottish Cup triumph in May was the greatest day of his career, but the Englishman recalls seeing the pain of defeat etched on the faces of devastated Dundee United players after the Perth side’s 2-0 win at Celtic Park and knows their derby rivals will still be hurting and thirsting for revenge.
“The League Cup semi-final atmosphere at Tynecastle when we lost to Aberdeen was special but our cup win at Celtic Park is definitely the highlight of my career,” he said. “That day rounded off a great season for the club and now that we’ve had a taste of it we want more.
“But obviously the United players were really down after that defeat. If I was in their shoes I’d be seeing this as the first chance to get some revenge for the final.
“I’d remember the sight of us celebrating that day at Celtic Park and use it to spur me on. So we have to be ready for them.”
Saints recovered from back-to-back defeats by Dundee and Inverness to beat Kilmarnock in Ayrshire in midweek, setting-up a mouthwatering League Cup quarter-final trip to Ibrox next month, but Perth manager Tommy Wright has to conjure up a new striking combination, with Brian Graham ruled out by the terms of his loan agreement from the Tannadice club.
The Perth boss missed out on bringing in emergency cover this weekend and the search goes on.
Croft said: “It’s disappointing not to have Brian because he has been brilliant for us since coming in. He’s made a real impact and settled in well with the lads.
“With Steven MacLean injured the gaffer will have to make a change. It could be a chance for Adam Morgan to come in and show what he can do. He wants a chance to do himself justice after coming up on loan from Yeovil and I’m sure there are goals in him.”
Perth boss Wright will give a late test to teenage midfielder Scott Brown, who rolled an ankle against Dundee and missed out on the last two games.