Durnan ready to leave mark on dynamic duo in derby
Defender picks out partners Hemmings and Stewart as main threat for Dundee
THERE is respect but not too much as Mark Durnan contemplates the challenge confronting him and his fellow defenders in this weekend’s Dundee derby.
Much praise having been lavished on opposition forwards Kane Hemmings and Greg Stewart in particular this season, the 23-year-old central defender – who is hopeful of reclaiming his starting place after being benched against Motherwell after being sent off for what he called “a bit of sloppiness” during United’s Scottish Cup quarterfinal defeat of Ross County – is well placed to judge since he knows what they are up against pretty well.
“Obviously Dundee’s forwards have proved this season how good they are, with the number of goals they’ve scored. They’ve linked very well together,” he acknowledged.
“I did come across Hemmings and Stewart when they were at Cowdenbeath and I was at Queen of the South. You could tell then that they were good players. They’ve obviously had a good bond and they’ve carried it on at Dundee.
“I knew they would step up a level so, when it comes to it, the defenders need to be on our toes to stop them.”
Pressed on where they rank among the better combinations in the competition, however, he held back.
“There are a lot of good partnerships in the league,” Durnan mused.
“They’ve done well, but I wouldn’t say they’re the strongest.”
In many ways, he cannot afford to think otherwise and he hinted at being prepared to take a pretty robust approach in a bid to minimise their impact when asked how he had done against them previously.
“I’m sure the boy Stewart got injured. I think I might have tackled him…” he observed dryly.
However he identified in them the quality that United are going to require if they are to get out of their present predicament, eight points adrift of second-bottom Kilmarnock with four matches remaining before the Premiership split when saying: “I think what makes them [Hemmings and Stewart] tick is their self-belief, believing they are good enough to go on the park and do it against anyone.”
United’s own belief should be growing on the basis of 2016 form given that Dundee’s handsome 16-point advantage over their city rivals is entirely down to their efforts before and up to the teams’ previous meeting in the year’s opening fixture.
Since then United have won one more Premiership match, accrued as many points – 10 apiece – and progressed to the semi-finals of the Scottish Cup while Dundee were trounced in the quarter-finals by Championship leaders Rangers.
They are also hopeful that they have identified a striker of their own who can make a difference with Henri Anier, in what is effectively his second spell with them either side of an unproductive loan spell with Hibs in the first half of this season, having scored two vital goals in the cup quarter-final win and another in the loss to Motherwell last weekend.
Not that they can afford to place too much responsibility on one man.
“He’s done brilliantly. He works really hard,” said Durnan.
“The manager has obviously brought him back from Hibs, given him a chance and he’s taking it.
“We’ve got a lot of good players in this time, match winners and we just need to go and prove that. That’s the key in football, you need to score to win.
“It’s easy saying we’ve got more firepower than the teams around us. We need to go and show it, score goals, keep clean sheets and get the wins.”
Then, of course, there is the matter of the special nature of this fixture between – those who share grounds apart – the closest neighbours anywhere in football.
United have yet to win one this season, but they have cause to believe they could and should have won both having been 2-0 up with just nine minutes to go in August and led the New Year encounter too.
Third time lucky for United would have the knock-on effect of shaking the confidence Dundee have carried through much of the season, precariously placed as they are on the brink of the top six.
“It’s a chance for us to claw back on the teams above us,” said Durnan.
“It would be great to give the fans something. To win it would be a huge bonus for them.”
TANGERINE DREAM: Mark Durnan is ready to line up from the start after missing out for United last week.