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 back side.
“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 - 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 with the Terrors’ turn-around, saying: “There were times last year where we were not playing well and a goal never looked like coming.
“But we have got 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 Saturday as they host Tayside rivals St Johnstone.
But they 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 challengers to the reigning champions, Paton refused to count any possibilities out.
“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.”