After starring in Thursday’s historic Dundee derby, Gary Mackay-Steven yesterday savoured the quiet satisfaction of knowing he has already started to make good on a New Year’s promise to score more goals.
It proved quite a start to the year for the winger, who scored twice in United’s 6-2 victory over their city rivals. 1 January also marked when he can begin officially talking to other clubs, with Mackay-Steven’s contract due to expire in the summer. He has intimated he is looking to return down south, having spent a spell as a youth player at Liverpool.
Mackay-Steven had tripled his own goal tally for the season by half-time on Thursday, which was the first time United have scored six times against Dundee. Aberdeen earned the headlines by taking advantage of Celtic’s postponed fixture against Partick Thistle to move to the top of the Scottish Premiership with a victory over St Johnstone.
However, United remain handily-placed in third position, two points behind Celtic and three behind pace-setters Aberdeen, one of the sides linked with a move for Mackay-Steven.
He certainly made the most of the opportunity to remind potential suitors about what he can do after being handed his first start since the end of November. Mackay-Steven struck his first goals since the opening day of the season – the first coming from far out by the touchline and the second a sweetly-hit shot that whipped past Dundee debutant goalkeeper Arvid Schenk.
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“One of my New Year resolutions was to score more goals and I’ve been telling myself to shoot more,” said Mackay-Steven. “The first goal, I was aiming for the back post and if someone got a touch then great. But, I hit it that hard and it’s gone into the top corner. I was very happy about that.
“And with the second, it was a great ball from Stu [Armstrong]. It’s just about me getting into those positions and making the goalkeeper work. So I’m happy.
“I’ve obviously not featured as much as I would’ve liked in recent times,” he added. “But the team’s done well and it’s been a case of me biding my time and making the most of any chances. I got the nod to play against Dundee and I was right up for it.”
Mackay-Steven described the United dressing-room as a “happy one” just now, although there must surely be some frustration at not only last weekend’s defeat to St Johnstone, but also the recent 2-0 defeat to Aberdeen. Can the Tannadice side put together a consistent run to challenge for the title? They are now the highest goalscorers in the league and, by beating Celtic recently, have proved they are a match for anyone on their day.
“Celtic are definitely the out and out favourites all the time,” mused Mackay-Steven. “They’ve shown year in year out how strong they are. But we definitely feel, like Aberdeen, we can certainly push for at least second place. Just go game by game and get up the table as far as we can, gathering as many points as we can. It’s a good start to the year – and hopefully we can keep it going.
“We don’t fear anyone and as we showed against Dundee we can score goals,” he added. “Even Nadir [Ciftci] didn’t score on Thursday, but he still played really well. A lot of the boys can score goals and that’s a definite positive for the team. We’ll just go into every game with the attitude of attacking and knowing that we can score goals.”
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