Gary Mackay-Steven surprised by Dundee United’s decline

Aberdeen's Gary Mackay-Steven will face former club Dundee United today in the Scottish Cup. Picture: Ross Parker/SNS
Aberdeen's Gary Mackay-Steven will face former club Dundee United today in the Scottish Cup. Picture: Ross Parker/SNS
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Gary Mackay-Steven, Dundee United and Aberdeen have had mixed fortunes in the three years since the winger marked his last game for the Tannadice side with a League Cup semi-final victory against Derek McInnes’ team.

Given what’s happened since, anything other than a reversal of that result will be considered a major surprise when the clubs they used to call the “New Firm” meet in the Scottish Cup at Pittodrie this afternoon.

The Dons under McInnes have maintained their position as Celtic’s closest challengers while United have changed manager three times since and find themselves down in the Championship with no guarantee of a rapid return.

It’s not a situation in which Mackay-Steven ever expected to find his former club when he, along with Stuart Armstrong, departed for Celtic just days after that League Cup success under Jackie McNamara.

Not that he believes those moves, or the departure of the highly rated Ryan Gauld to Sporting Lisbon the previous summer, played a major part in Dundee United’s subsequent downfall.

As he said: “I don’t think about it like that because they still had a squad more than capable of staying up when Stuart and I left.

“I just think they got into a bad run, the confidence went and they found themselves bottom of the league. I don’t think it was us leaving, they had a good enough players and it was just a loss of form.

“Has the turmoil off the field been a factor? Maybe, but it’s hard to say because I didn’t feel any of that when I was there.

“The boys I played with, it wasn’t anything we spoke about. We had a good team, it was exciting and we picked up some good results. We had positive attacking players, we got on well on and off the park.

“It’s hard to say where we could have gone [if everyone had stayed], but I felt we could at least have won a Scottish Cup and we have had players from that team who have gone on to have good careers.”

Armstrong has certainly been a major success at Parkhead while the man who went with him looks a better fit at Aberdeen since moving there last summer as a replacement when Jonny Hayes went in the opposite direction.

Particularly with the quality of goal he scored in the previous round of the Scottish Cup in the 4-1 win against St Mirren, the team that have left Dundee United a surely insurmountable points gap to overhaul for the automatic promotion place. That means taking their chances in the play-offs and Mackay-Steven added: “I’m sad to see where United are at the moment, it’s not nice to see them in the Championship but it has happened to a few clubs in recent years, Hearts and Hibs as well, so it’s one of those things that can happen.

“I’m sure in the next few years they will come back up but finishing second doesn’t make it easy because you have to play those extra games at the end of the season.”

Not that Mackay-Steven will mind having one extra game at the end of the season if Aberdeen make it to the Scottish Cup final, although his manager will only really be satisfied if they lift the trophy for the first time since 1990.

McInnes has been responsible for securing one of only two trophies Aberdeen have secured since then – when they defeated Inverness Caley Thistle in the 2014 League Cup final – and he is desperate to increase that tally.

“Does it rankle that we’ve only won one trophy? It does,” admits the Dons manager.

“We’ve been to three cup finals and five semi-finals in four-and-a-half years. We’ve been there or thereabouts.

“We’ve had missed opportunities and that’s what semi-finals are about. I’ll probably remember the ones we lose more than the ones we win.

“We won a couple last year and dealt with that side of it and went to Hampden four times last season. It’s probably the semi-finals we’ve lost that are still a bit fresher. But that’s cup football, and you’re either in it or out it.”