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.”

Pic­ture: SNS

TAN­GER­INE DREAM: Mark Dur­nan is ready to line up from the start af­ter miss­ing out for United last week.

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