Micky Mellon expects his Dundee United players to be at their best under the pressure of Saturday’s Scottish Cup semi-final against Hibernian.
A convincing 3-0 win over Aberdeen at Pittodrie in the last round was followed by a deflating 2-0 defeat at home to Premiership strugglers Ross County last weekend.
Mellon, whose side are ninth in the table and safe from relegation, acknowledged the contrast in both performances but is confident his players will be up for the cup against Hibs at Hampden Park.
He said: “I spoke to a lot of people who I trust in the game and one of the things they said was ‘whatever you do Micky, the players will always play better with a bit of pressure on’.
“And if you are playing against a team with a bit of pressure on them, it can be difficult to get it right.
“As much as you say to the players, ‘get focused’, if there is no pressure on them and you are playing against a team who were fighting like Ross County, history even will tell you that it can be difficult.
“This weekend I have no problem with them being focused. The pressure is on and that is where you get the best out of yourself.
“When you have your back to the wall and it is ‘right, let’s get it on’ and that’s what the team will be.
“We showed against Aberdeen, they need the pressure on them, they need to be fighting for something.
“When the pressure seems to come off it seems to be difficult, not just for us, for a lot of sportsmen.
“It is like pre-season friendlies, when there is nothing on it. You don’t quite see what your team is like until the bullets start flying and the season gets going.
“This weekend will be a different game again and it is all on, so I am looking forward to it.”
With no Old Firm involved in the semi-finals – St Johnstone take on St Mirren in the other last-four game at the national stadium on Sunday – Mellon knows the chances of silverware have increased.
The former Fleetwood, Shrewsbury and Tranmere boss said: “It is a great opportunity for everybody, there is no doubt about that, no point in trying to get away from that. All four managers will be thinking ‘this could be my time’.
“You quite rightly say when the Old Firm are not involved your chances increase but you still have to get the job done.
“You are fighting against three other teams who will believe as well.
“We will all sure be looking forward to it.”
To reach the final for the first time since 2014, United will have to beat Hibs for the first time this season.
The Taysiders lost 1-0 and 2-0 at Tannadice in the Premiership to Jack Ross’ side, with a 1-1 draw at Easter Road in between.
Mellon said: “We drew at Easter Road and in the two games here I felt we were unlucky not to get something in both.
“The games were decided on moments rather than periods of time, like other games we have been involved in against the Old Firm.
“They have been hard fought games. I am expecting the same at Hampden and so are the players and I am hoping we can put on a good show for Scotland and for the cup.”