Paul Hartley has welcomed Paul McGowan back into the fold after his restriction of liberty order ended earlier this week, but warned the midfielder that he might have to wait to reclaim a starting place.
While McGowan was still able to play despite wearing an ankle tag, a curfew imposed on him from 7pm to 7am left him unavailable for evening matches. It also meant he was unable to join the Dundee party on their pre-season trip to Hungary.
A regular last season, McGowan started the current league campaign on the bench in last weekend’s 4-0 win over Kilmarnock. He came on in the second half for Kevin Thomson and, while Hartley might be loath to change a winning team, he expressed delight that McGowan is now firmly back in contention.
McGowan will be available for selection as expected against Hearts tomorrow but, crucially, is now free to play in Tuesday’s derby against Dundee United at Tannadice, which kicks off at 7.45pm. The 27-year-old was forced to miss a midweek clash against Celtic at the end of last season due to the curfew, imposed following a third conviction for police assault in April.
“It has not affected Paul in terms of how he goes about his business, but it has affected pre-season because he has not been with the group,” said Hartley, (inset) when asked how the player has coped with the banning order.
“He has played in half a game v Brechin. So that has affected him – or, sorry, affected us, because he has not been available for selection.
“But from what I have seen every day, he has been terrific. And it is great we have him now in terms of the midweek game (v United). He is free to go and play. But he knows, like everyone else, that once you are in charge of the jersey it is up to them to keep it.”
Hartley is speaking from a position of strength since those he handed the jersey to last week did everything they could to keep their place in the eye-opening win at Rugby Park.
Centre-half James McPake comes back into contention following suspension for tomorrow’s eagerly awaited clash with Hearts. Nicky Low, a summer signing from Aberdeen, will have to wait longer to make his competitive debut as he allows a foot injury to heal.
Hartley admitted the prospect of playing Hearts, where he enjoyed a four-year spell as a player, was a little bit special.
The Tynecastle side also hit four in their opening league game on Sunday against St Johnstone but conceded three in front of the watching Hartley, who was given a warm reception by the home fans.
“I’m delighted to see Hearts back up,” he said. “I had a great four years there. It’s a brilliant club with a fantastic support and the league needed to have a strong Hearts coming back in.
“They will probably bring 3,000 here on Saturday so it’s what we wanted and they’ll be a great addition to the league.”
“I think they’ve come back stronger for what they’ve been through,” he added. “They’re under new ownership and a lot of their young players are more experienced now from being in the Premier League, having to endure that relegation experience and then come back up through the Championship last year.
“So I would say they are much stronger on the park and certainly off the park after all that happened there.”
Hartley once made a stand against former owner Vladimir Romanov’s running of the Tynecastle club, alongside Steven Pressley and Craig Gordon.
He was glad to see at first hand last week how the club has progressed under owner Ann Budge and drew the comparison with Dundee, who are also revitalised after enduring two financial meltdowns leading to administration.
“We’ve had a tough time like they have but you can see now that both clubs are much stronger in terms of off the park and the leadership that we’ve got,” said Hartley.
“The people who are running the clubs now are much better and I think that will benefit not just us but Scottish football. Hopefully we’ll keep getting stronger and keep progressing.”