Dundee United’s season has been a disaster, according to former defender Lee Wilkie.
But big Lee reckons the players can help plaster over the wounds of a car-crash campaign by securing a May date at Hampden for the fans this weekend.
The Tangerines’ fate looks bleak in the Premiership following two league defeats on the bounce. That sequence, combined with Kilmarnock’s win last Saturday, has opened up an eight-point gap between United and Lee Clark’s men with just five games left to play.
While the club’s top-flight status is perilous, ex-Scotland international defender Wilkie says the fans can use this weekend’s Scottish Cup semi-final against Championship Hibernian as a welcome distraction.
However, he thinks, after what has gone before, the players owe the fans a big performance at the national stadium.
“The players owe the fans one,” said Lee.
“After a disastrous season the least the players can do is give the fans something to shout about.
“Making it through to the cup final will not make up for the Premiership season but it would give the fans something to look forward to.
“Unfortunately, they’ve had very little to get excited about for a year or so now.”
Wilkie, who led Peter Houston’s Terrors out in 2010 at Hampden — the last time United won the competition — and lifted the cup with Andy Webster, reckons his former side have a decent chance this weekend.
Although, despite taking on the most out-of-form side in the second tier in Hibs, Wilkie says United cannot count their chickens just yet.
“On paper it is a good game for United,” he said.
“But that means little. This season’s struggles have taught us all that.
“Both teams are going into this game with little to no confidence.
“Sometimes, though, that can all be forgotten when the stakes are so high.
“Hibs will be desperate to make up for their promotion push falling apart and United will be wanting to show their fans some fight after dropping off the pace at the bottom of the table.
“For that reason it might turn out to be a decent game, even though it doesn’t look the most exciting prospect.”
Two United players — Paul Paton (if fit) and John Rankin — are heading into the clash knowing that a booking, should United win, would see them miss out on the final.
That’s not a position alien to Wilkie.
Back in 2003, the centre-back missed Dundee’s cup final loss to Rangers because he picked up two bookings on the road to Hampden. His first came at Partick in the opening match of that campaign, arguably he could have been given a red, and the second came when he brought down future United teammate Barry Robson in the semi-final against Inverness.
“I would have been better off punching the boy,” joked Wilkie.
“Of course I later became friends with Barry when we were at United but had I done something like that I would have missed the next few league games back then and been OK for the final. But, at the end of the day, that’s football.”
While he thinks it will play on the duo’s minds, he does not think it will have an impact on their style of play, especially Paton.
“They are both committed players and I’m certain you won’t see either pull out of tackles,” said Wilkie.
“Paton is a player who wears his heart on his sleeve. I’m sure, if he’s fit, he would risk everything to win the ball for his team-mates.
“United will need that kind of character to make it through.”