Nicky Clark has never known a season like it. Signed back in the summer with a clear remit to provide goals in their quest for promotion, the Dundee United striker has instead spent much of his time injured on the sidelines as his team-mates toiled in his absence.
But Saturday’s strike could change everything. Occupying the bench for the first 70 minutes of this hard-fought encounter with his former club, the 27-year-old striker eventually entered the fray and didn’t disappoint with his decisive 81st-minute header which finally broke Dunfermline’s resistance.
His timing couldn’t have been much better. With both Ross County and Ayr United faltering for the second week running, United were able to take full advantage and move to within three points of the Championship’s summit.
“It was a good feeling for me getting the goal,” said Clark, pictured. “It has been a frustrating time for me recently with injury so it was great to come back and score the winner. I have missed a lot of this season and it is the first time in my career that has happened.
“It has just been wee niggling injuries like tendonitis and then inflammation on a bone. They are the sort of injuries you just have to leave to settle down and that’s been the most frustrating thing. They have been hard to get over but I am feeling good now and I am delighted to be back helping the boys.”
With American owner Mark Ogren surveying his first match since coming to the helm prior to Christmas this was always going to be a notable afternoon for the Tayside club. Should they proceed to secure promotion from the Championship at the third attempt, they might well reflect upon this afternoon in mid-January as something of a turning point.
This time the Taysiders, who’d only managed to scrape a 1-1 draw with bottom club Partick Thistle the previous weekend, took full advantage when their main rivals had been guilty of slipping up elsewhere.
“Those two slipped up last week and we did the same,” reflected Clark.
“We knew at half-time that Ross County were losing and Ayr were drawing so we were aware it was massive for us to get the three points and luckily enough we did. The league is really tight but we just need to concentrate on our own performances and results and then check to see how they have done.”
It was a big day for Dunfermline too – their first game with new manager Stevie Crawford at the helm following Allan Johnston’s departure.
Midfielder James Vincent is convinced the Pars can now start climbing the league. “The lads found out during the week that we were changing manager. It has been a short turnaround but we will get better and so will our league position moving forward,” he insisted.