FROM middling to more favourable. Such has been the progress forged by Dundee since the turn of the year. But for Dave Mackay turnrounds are nothing new. The young defender had already tasted a true reversal of fortune, the one which dragged him in from the cold and placed him firmly back in the Dens Park picture.
Mackay has been a standout in the Dundee defence this season and a near ever-present to boot. He seems to remember missing a match last Boxing Day, but apart from that he has been a model of consistency, showing off those capabilities. "I’m delighted to have played as many games as I have," says Mackay. "I never thought back at the beginning of the season it would have been like this. Everything has fallen into place."
About 16 months ago Mackay was without his place at Dundee. Having arrived at the club as a callow teenager when Jocky Scott remained manager Mackay found himself farmed out when the brothers Bonetti first descended on Tayside.
An initial stint with third div-ision Brechin ("I just wanted to get away and play games") he found enjoyable enough. It was a further excursion to Arbroath at the beginning of last season that was a tougher gig.
Brechin had been challenging for a promotion. Arbroath were struggling in their own first division environment. On the back of a couple of heavy league defeats Mackay found himself on the bench for a cup tie with East Fife. Not so good.
Yet the upward trajectory that currently finds Mackay a key component in Jim Duffy’s side was about to kick in. With Ivano Bonetti’s squad ravaged by injuries Mackay was called back to his club. A fortnight after sitting on the bench against East Fife he was sitting on the bench at Rugby Park. But an early injury to Alessandro Romano had Mackay suddenly back in action for Dundee. He played well in the 1-0 win and grabbed some confidence back. Since that point 16 months ago he hasn’t exactly looked back.
"We have a very young team," said Duffy this week. "Especially in our defence. The young players at the club have done very well. It is not up to me who gets picked for the national squads. But I have been surprised that Dave Mackay has not been involved."
It is the opinion of his own manager, but it is testimony to how quickly Mackay has grown.
Mackay is unable to properly fathom how life has turned so decent for him, but he has some notions and these betray a certain modesty in his character.
"I think that I was a last resort for Bonetti and now I am a first-team regular. Maybe I don’t get all the headlines but as long as I know I’m doing a job and that I’m not letting anyone down." Least of all Duffy who has been content to let homegrown youths, like Mackay, flourish.
"Perhaps the manager being an ex-defender and a great Dundee player in his day has helped me. He’s always giving his opinions day to day whether it’s been good or he’s looking for improvement. There’s a lot more confidence this year. You can see it in the dressing room, there’s a better atmosphere. There’s been this turnround."
Ah yes, turnrounds. Mackay knows about those and he also knows he prefers the more regimented training to the lackadaisical approach of the past.
"It’s just different from last year. The training methods, everything is better. Just being in at the same time in the morning helps. Last year we were training later which was a pain in the backside. I think that the changes have meant we are quicker and sharper. I think anybody would prefer to be out of bed and getting on with it."
Since losing to Rangers at Ibrox at the start of this year, Dundee, up to their visit to Partick yesterday, have been unbeaten on league duty. They have also progressed to the quarter-finals of the Scottish Cup where they face Falkirk.
While the team stuck three past Hibs midweek the Dundee defence achieved another shut-out, their fourth in five games.
"The only one was my own goal," pipes up Mackay with commendable honesty. That would be the one in the derby draw with United. But apart from that blemish, all is well.
"I think outside of the Old Firm we’re playing as good as anyone right now, if not better," believes Mackay. "It is down to more consistency and we are always creating chances in a game. It’s just whether we take them or not. It is possible that in the next couple of games we could give a team a hiding."
With manager Duffy touting his right back for international recognition (Mackay becomes inelegible for the Scotland under-21 set up this summer and has only ever been involved at under-19 level), what is the player’s take on this matter?
"I feel as though I’ve got enough qualities..." says Mackay. Once battering on the door, he is now buoyed with belief.