IN SWATTING away the advances of Cardiff City, Dundee insisted that their manager, Paul Hartley, has long-term plans at Dens Park. The most pressing, though, is ending the run of games without a win over their near neighbours when the teams face up for the first of two derbies in less than a week on Sunday.
It has been ten years since the Dark Blues overcame Dundee United and, although the sides have spent most of that decade operating in different leagues, Hartley still believes the fans have been made to wait long enough. Having enjoyed plenty of derby success as a player, he wants his charges to emerge from the shadows of their city rivals and ensure he savours more success as a manager.
“It is a big test for myself as a manager but derby games are a little bit different in terms of the media spotlight on you and the players, who can showcase their talents in front of a sellout crowd live on Sky. It’s one we want to win and we will try our best to do that.
“It is something that is new to me and a lot of our players but it is a game we are all looking forward to and it should be a cracker,” said the manager, who is looking forward to adding to his derby collection. “It is sold out and both teams are doing well in the league so it is one we can’t wait for. Being a player is different from being a manager and how you approach a derby. When you are a player you can do something about it out on the pitch.
“I have played in the Edinburgh derby and the big one, the Old Firm derby, but this is something new because I am a manager for the first time in one. So I am excited about it.
“I have seen them on the telly but I have never been to one. By all accounts, the atmosphere is special and it is one of the games you look for when the fixtures come out. You want to see when you are playing your rivals. The players are really looking forward to it. Like any derby, you are desperate to win it. The bragging rights for supporters are massive.
“We think we are in the best shape for a number of years. I think we have a squad on the park who can compete with the best teams. We have shown this season that we don’t fear anyone and we go into the game with lots of confidence.”
Unbeaten in the league this season, victory in the Premiership clash on Sunday would take them level on points with their city foes but leapfrog them thanks to goal difference. It would also send them into the midweek League Cup tie brimming with increased belief. Dundee anticipate being without Kevin Thomson, Peter MacDonald and Willie Dyer due to injury, while the opposition will be weakened by the loss of Nadir Ciftci through suspension.
But Hartley knows that derbies present the perfect stage for unexpected heroes to emerge, while favourites can be elevated further towards legendary status. In the Glasgow derbies, his heart on his sleeve approach was appreciated by the Celtic fans but it was in the Capital games where he earned his most enduring reputation. He became the scourge of Hibs and earned the adulation of the Hearts crowd when he netted a hat-trick in a Scottish Cup semi-final.
He knows how players can be transformed in the minds of the fervent fan base on such occasions.
“You can, yes. Somebody might do something special on the day to win the game. I think you are remembered for a long time after that. Hopefully our players can go and perform the way they have done since the start of pre-season and maintain the form they have shown.
“I scored three for Hearts – it should have been four – in a Scottish Cup semi-final against Hibs at Hampden. It was probably one of the biggest Edinburgh derbies for years at that time. So to get three goals was fantastic and you are remembered for that – hopefully some of our players are remembered from Sunday for putting on a good performance and show.”
Recognising the importance of maintaining recent standards, Hartley says they also have to work at nullifying the opposition and making the most of their weaknesses. “You want to look at what’s a threat and how do you stop it. What are their weaknesses and how do we take advantage of it?
“Then we have to concentrate on our style of play and how our lads can affect the game on Sunday.”
A burden will be placed on Bilate in Ciftci’s absence but, although he is a newcomer to the Scottish game, Hartley is well versed on what he and the other United dangermen bring to the mix and hopes his men can combat that.
“We have seen a lot of clips [of Bilate] and viewed footage of him. We will continue to do that right up until the game but they have threats all over the park — Gary Mackay-Steven, Chris Erskine has come into a bit of form and Stuart Armstrong, if he is fit. They have good players and we know that. But we think we also have good players so hopefully we will be a threat towards them.”