DUNDEE UNITED defender Ryan McGowan last night hit back at those who claim the loss of Gary Mackay-Steven and Stuart Armstrong has left them toiling.
United have suffered back-to-back league defeats to Kilmarnock and St Johnstone recently in the wake of Mackay-Steven and Armstrong both sealing moves to champions Celtic from Tannadice. But Australia international McGowan has rubbished the suggestion that Jackie McNamara’s men are labouring as a direct result of losing two such key performers, and pointed to their impressive form earlier in the season when both players weren’t ever-present.
United won seven of their first nine games of the new season as they surged to the top of the Scottish Premiership without Mackay-Steven and Armstrong always being in the starting line-up. And McGowan is convinced they have more than enough quality within their ranks to rise again and return to winning ways in tonight’s re-arranged league clash with Inverness.
“I think people just make that out because of how we’ve played in the last two games,” said McGowan. “Obviously, I wasn’t here for the first part of the season. But I definitely think that the players we have in this squad were playing – more regularly than the other two boys who’ve gone away.
“At the start of the season, Chris Erskine was playing and the other two weren’t. In my first game here against Motherwell, GMS was on the bench. So you can’t say they were starting week-in-week-out. They have obviously gone and done well but we have players in this squad who’re definitely more than capable of filling their shoes. It’s our job to go out there and show that these players aren’t missed by getting the right results.”
McGowan signed for United towards the end of the January transfer window and helped the Taysiders reach the final of the League Cup. But having endured consecutive defeats, the 25-year-old defender can’t wait to help the fourth-top Tangerines try and put things right when high-flying Inverness Caledonian Thistle visit Tannadice tonight. McGowan said: “The last couple of weeks have obviously been disappointing. But I think we showed in the League Cup semi-final and then in a tricky Scottish Cup away tie afterwards that we do have the players capable of getting results and playing good football. Hopefully we will get a win on Tuesday and then another win on Saturday.”
John Hughes, meanwhile, remains happy for his Inverness side to remain under the radar. The Highlanders are unbeaten in nine games this year and sit in third place in the Scottish Premiership, eight points behind leaders Celtic and five behind Aberdeen. The exciting 3-3 home draw with Kilmarnock on Saturday moved Caley on to 52 points, just five less than last season’s total when they finished in fifth place. Victory over United tonight will take them eight points clear of the Scottish League Cup finalists and strengthen their bid for a European spot. However, the Inverness boss played down what has so far been a fine, if understated, league campaign.
“Trust me, if there is going to be a challenge to Celtic it is going to come from Dundee United or Aberdeen,” said Hughes. “We are just a small provincial club up here in the Highlands, possibly punching well above our weight. There are always targets here, individually and collectively.
“But we are at our best when we have the siege mentality, the underdog mentality. These guys don’t get too much praise and they love to prove people wrong and hopefully that will be the case for the rest of the season.”
Hughes is hoping his side tighten up defensively from the weekend when they surrendered the lead three times. The former Hibernian and Falkirk boss said: “We will prepare to give the team the best opportunity to win the match. But we have to be a bit better defensively than we were against Kilmarnock, that’s for sure.
“I was disappointed with the goals we lost. Having scored three goals at home you should win the match. But I can’t be too critical, the boys have been outstanding and we could have won the game. Jackie (McNamara) has done a wonderful job at Dundee United, a real great job. He has a lot of trust and faith in the youths and Tannadice is always a nice venue to go to, so I am looking forward to it.”
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