Jackie McNamara looks to cup bid for respite

McNamara: Under pressure. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
McNamara: Under pressure. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
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Jackie McNamara is hoping it’s time third time lucky in his quest to bring silverware to Dundee United. The Tannadice manager has been at the helm since January 2013 and has twice reached major finals, only to fall at the last hurdle.

In 2014, McNamara’s United made it to the Scottish Cup final before losing to Tayside rivals St Johnstone at Celtic Park, and last season the Tangerines lost March’s League Cup final to holders Celtic.

Now McNamara, who admits he is under pressure as his side sit second-bottom in the Premiership, has some brief respite from his league woes as United prepare to welcome Dunfermline to Tayside for tonight’s League Cup tie.

McNamara said: “We treat the league and cups exactly the same. The cups are the most realistic chance for us to get silverware and success. It’s obviously important where we finish up in the league but the cups are a good opportunity for us.

“We got to the final last year and would like to go one step further. But we need to overcome Dunfermline first. We’d never treat the cups lightly. We’ve made one or two changes here or there.

“We’ve got belief in all of the squad and it’s about pushing each other by finishing teams off and scoring goals. The only way to do that is by creating opportunities.”

McNamara is aware Dunfermline, who beat Dundee in the last round, are fancied to create an upset at Tannadice. He said: “It’s right to view them as a banana skin. They might be in League One but they are a full-time club and have a few players who have only just dropped down.

“I’ve watched them a few times. They beat Dundee and feel they can cause another upset. We have to go about it with the same intensity as we started on Saturday against Inverness and, hopefully, kill them off.”

United’s 1-1 league draw with Caley Thistle at the weekend stopped their four-game losing streak, but they only had themselves to blame for not killing the Highlanders off after Billy McKay, on loan from Wigan, had given them an early lead.

McNamara has felt the Tannadice tension in recent weeks while finding results hard to come by, and said: “There’s a sense of apprehension that sets in when you don’t get that second or third goal and you do things you weren’t doing before. This is a good break from the league if we get to the next round. There is a bit of pressure because it’s a lower-league team and we need to win it.”

Striker McKay remains convinced United will come through their recent sticky patch in the league, and that a good cup run will help. McKay, who hopes to shake off a foot knock to play, said: “It’s a game we’re looking forward to because, if you win, you are in the quarter-finals and it’s all to play for. Hopefully, a win in the cup would help us go on a good run that can help us go up the table.”

United will be without injured duo Paul Dixon and Chris Erksine, while skipper Sean Dillon is suspended, having been sent off in last season’s final.

Dunfermline manager Allan Johnston reckons his side are massive underdogs to beat United. The Pars defeated Stenhousemuir 5-0 at the weekend, but Johnston said: “I do not read anything into Dundee United’s results as they have quality right through their squad. Jackie was able to go out recently and add Billy McKay and that shows Dundee United are still a big club.”

Johnston could be without four defenders tonight as Shaun Rooney and Jason Talbot were injured at the weekend. They could join Callum Fordyce and Ryan Williamson, as well as midfielder Lewis Spence, on the sidelines. Johnston said: “It is far from ideal but, hopefully, we were able to catch Shaun and 
Jason’s injuries in time.”