THE satisfaction that Jackie McNamara could take from becoming the first Dundee United manager since Jim McLean 23 years ago to guide the Tayside club to back-to-back domestic finals might have been tempered last night by the thought that yesterday’s League Cup semi-final success could mark the last hurrah for his team in its current form.
It is understood that both Celtic and Burnley were yesterday involved in renewed negotiations over a deal to entice United to part with midfielder Stuart Armstrong, with both clubs believed to have offered around £1.5 million for a player United rate in the £2m bracket.
Armstrong was a central figure in the 2-1 victory over Aberdeen, as was Gary Mackay-Steven, who has already signed a pre-contract agreement with the Scottish champions. If, as expected, Celtic beat Rangers in the other semi-final today, it could place Mackay-Steven in the awkward position of potentially scuppering his future employers’ treble chances in the 15 March League Cup final.
Before the transfer window closes tomorrow, it is likely that Celtic will push to have Armstrong and Mackay-Stevens in their ranks, and McNamara admitted last night he did not know if either had played their last game for the club.
An encounter that was historic in allowing the Tannadice club to follow up the Scottish Cup final lost in May with a place in the subsequent showpiece – a double McLean achieved with runners-up roles in the 1981 Scottish Cup final and the following season’s League Cup.
“There’s that much speculation but we don’t need to sell him [Armstrong],” McNamara said.
“Every club has a price though and that will be outwith my hands. It’s the same every window. It was the same after the Scottish Cup final last year, losing Ryan Gauld and Andy Robertson, it was the same before that with Johnny Russell. I knew that coming here, but I think it speaks volumes for the talent that we have.
“You have to weigh up everything. The timescale – [there are] 18 months on [Armstrong’s] contract – in the summer he’s going into his last year, same as Nadir [Ciftci]. It’s important to mention that last November we managed to get Stuart and Nadir to sign extensions. If we hadn’t we’d have been losing both them and Gary Mackay Steven for nothing in the summer. We have to protect ourselves.”
McNamara also requires to continue to develop and nurture the next wave of United mainstays to step up and replace such as Armstrong, Mackay-Steven and Ciftci, now suspended for the final.Ryan Dow, although a contemporary of Armstrong, may fit into that bracket. Yesterday, McNamara cited his second-half introduction as turning the semi-final in United’s favour.
“Ryan Dow was the difference in the game when he came on. His energy in behind won us the game,” said McNamara. who praised his squad for bouncing back from their Scottish Cup final let down against St Johnstone.
“I said to him at the start of the second half that it was tailor-made for him. It was a bit condensed in midfield, it was difficult to get young Charlie [Telfer] on the ball. A lot was going over his head up to [Adam] Rooney or into the corner. I felt if we could do the same, we had a few opportunities in behind in the first half, and it was the perfect moment for Dowser to do that.
“It’s great for everybody to be in a final. We’ve got another final so soon after the disappointment in the summer. That’s why we’re in it, for days like today. We said to the players before the game to make sure we don’t leave anything to chance. I thought we did that, to a man.”
Opposite number Derek McInnes was magnanimous in a defeat that ended Aberdeen’s defence of the trophy, although he believed that a Rooney strike disallowed for a push with the scores tied at 1-1 should have stood. “We said prior to the game it was a tournament we wanted to do well in,” McInnes said.
“We see it as an opportunity to consistently get to cup finals. We are proud of the fact we won the trophy last year, hadn’t conceded a goal in the League Cup since we came in the door. But we know we had to beat a good team today and our performance was never good enough to be convinced that it was going to go our way.
“There were key decisions and moments in the game that played a part in the result and United got a second goal and we didn’t.”