Wild Wednesday: Forget Hearts-Aberdeen Euro battle or Rangers farewells, the Mecca of Madness takes centre stage once more
These pages have explored Dundee and the Dens Park side's proclivity to do things the difficult way. After all, they parted company with Championship-winning manager Gary Bowyer a matter of days after the most sensational of final days in Scottish football. Sitting in the passenger seat are rivals Dundee United. They have just 180 minutes to save their season, to secure their Premiership status after one of the most extraordinary campaigns in recent time. Only, extraordinary in a way which is the complete opposite to their 1983 league title win. Instead, it has been a curious cavalcade of comedy which could come to a conclusion on Wednesday night in front of what will be a tense and perhaps tetchy home support who are long past frustrated and fed up.
United are the story of what is set to be a fascinating penultimate round of fixtures to the league season, with five of the six matches particularly meaningful, whether it is the relegation scrap or the chase for the European spots. Livingston’s home encounter with Motherwell has the least riding on it – although don’t tell that to Kevin van Veen, as the Dutchman goes in search of his tenth goal in consecutive games and the league’s top scorer award.
Match days like Wednesday once again extol the beauty of the split. So much can be decided but also so much can change. With Hearts at Ibrox, Aberdeen – who host St Mirren –will be hoping to secure third place and what will likely be passage into the group stage of either the Europa League or Conference League. The Buddies, meanwhile, will spot an opportunity to leapfrog Hibs, who face Celtic at Easter Road, into fifth and a possible European place if Celtic were to defeat Inverness CT in the Scottish Cup final.
The most prominent European battle is between Hearts and Aberdeen. The former defeated the latter at Tynecastle Park on Saturday to keep the race going into the last two rounds of fixtures. The Dons had produced a 15-point swing over the Gorgie side to get into such an enviable position. What are the chances that this madcap of a season could see another dramatic swing? It would likely require Hearts doing something which they have struggled to do for years, win in Glasgow against one of the Old Firm. Interim manager Steven Naismith has said all the right things, which have been noted by the club’s support, but attacking and enthusiastic home performances need to be translated outside of EH11. The Red Army of Pittodrie will be keeping an eye on what is happening at Ibrox with intrigue and interest. They will know they have to take care of their own business after a couple of substandard performances and get Barry Robson his first victory since being handed a two-year deal.
United, Killie and County
Yet, Hearts and Aberdeen, Hibs and St Mirren and the European battle – plus the multitude of farewells to Rangers players taking place at Ibrox – have to settle for a spot on the undercard. We return to the City of Discovery for the game of the night. Following defeat at Livingston at the weekend, United can be relegated when they welcome Kilmarnock to Tannadice. They trail Killie by three points and Ross County, who face a St Johnstone side that have already confirmed their safety, by two points. They’ve entered must-not-lose territory. But this is also a really-could-do-with-three-points fixture. It wasn't meant to be this way after three successive wins coming into the split. Yet, in keeping with this madcap campaign at the club, they followed it up with three straight defeats.
Manager Goodwin has gone from a genius back to the gaffer who was bundled out of Aberdeen. Relegation would not be laid at his door. He inherited a colossal mess, one which has been added to constantly throughout the season. Goodwin had to start a 17-year-old in attack at Livi and replace him with an 18-year-old, a by-product of wretched recruitment before his appointment. Who could have foreseen that relying on 36-year-old striker Steven Fletcher for the whole of the second half of the campaign would backfire? Both teenagers Rory MacLeod and Miller Thomson performed admirably in his absence, more so than experienced team-mates like Charlie Mulgrew and Mark Birighitti. Too often the defensive, notably the goalkeeping performances, have resembled something from a Clown College.
Yet, they still have survival in their grasp. They just need to beat a Kilmarnock side who struggle for goals and haven't won back-to-back league games all season and then Motherwell. Meanwhile Killie host Ross County on the final day of the season. The Staggies are incredibly unpredictable. If either of those sides finished bottom or 11th, it wouldn’t result in the same headlines as United. Kilmarnock, who lost at home to St Johnstone last time out, have a squad which is still in need of a Premiership overhaul after last season’s promotion, while many of the expectations around County are to be in the bottom half. United, 12 months on from qualifying for Europe, shouldn’t be in this position. They should be applying pressure to Hearts, Hibs and Aberdeen in the battle for third or fourth.
Now they are on the precipice. And on a night where so much could happen, they could be about to discover the consequences of making poor decisions on top of poor decisions, and what it feels like to be replaced by your arch rivals from Scottish football’s Mecca of Madness.
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