Dundee boss James McPake says his players are “fired up” as they look to secure second spot and take their quest for Premiership promotion into the post-season.
The Dee head for Ayr United tonight aiming to pick up three points to maintain their play-off push and avenge the 3-1 loss to the Honest Men at Dens last month.
With six games to go, the Dark Blues are well and truly at the business end of the Championship campaign and McPake is pleased with how his players are responding to the demands placed on them.
They’ve won three of their last four in the league, including a comfortable 3-0 victory over Alloa and 3-2 comeback success against Dunfermline following on from the Ayr disappointment.
McPake says they travel to Somerset Park tonight in a boisterous mood.
‘We’re fired up and there’s a lot of emotion coming out because we’re desperate to win’
“It’s getting to that point where it is crucial and I think a lot of the credit must go to the players,” he said.
“After that Ayr United game, we were live on TV at Alloa which is a very tough place to go and we won well.
“You’ve seen Dundee United and Hearts go there in recent seasons and struggle. At home, in my opinion, they’re a very good side and Peter Grant has them playing good football.
“On the back of the Tuesday night it was a real test of character for my players and I thought, to a man, they performed.
“I thought: ‘Great!’
“And then next week we’re two goals down within five minutes and it’s like: ‘Here we go again!’
“Character-wise, though, they bounced back and even on Saturday (the 1-0 Scottish Cup defeat to St Johsntone) the way they lost the goal and tried to get back in.
“We’re fired up and there’s a lot of emotion coming out because we’re desperate to win.
“Credit must go to the players. It’s them that are out there when you’re two goals down.
“It’s them that fight their way back into the game.
“I think they’ve shown tremendous character and it’s going to take that between now and the end of the season.
“I know it’s in there and I’m glad that we’re showing it.”
Second is Dee boss’ biggest desire
This evening’s meeting in Ayrshire is Dundee’s game in hand on Raith Rovers, currently three points ahead in second spot, and McPake says they understand the significance of the match.
For the Dee gaffer, there’s not getting away from it – it’s a massive game and three points is a must.
“First and foremost, we need to secure our place in the play-offs,” he continued.
“Of course you want to finish second. I think history has shown that gives you a better chance.
“The difference this year is we’ve got a 27-game season as opposed to 36.
“That’s not to say I’m happy to finish third or fourth, I want to finish second.
“We wanted to win the league, of course we did, but looking at it now with six to play we want that second spot.
“Going down to Ayr tonight would be a massive three points for us.
“The performance against them up here was as bad as it’s been in my time here so we need to go down there and put that right. That’s crucial.”
McPake reflects on Scottish Cup exit with gentler hue
Despite their Scottish Cup exit at the hands of St Johnstone at the weekend, a reflective McPake reckons they can be happy with their showing in the 1-0 defeat at Dens.
He was incensed at Danny Mullen having a goal ruled out but, once he calmed down, was able to see the wood for the trees.
“Saturday night and Sunday, driving up to Dundee I was still disappointed by the fact we went out,” McPake admitted.
“I hadn’t really seen the positives at that stage because we weren’t in the next round but when you sit back and take stock you see it.
“I’ve watched the game again and spoke to Callum Davidson (St Johnstone boss) and he was very complimentary.
“That’s credit to our players because they’re a really good side – they’ve shown that in winning the Betfred Cup, finishing in the top six and he’s got them very well organised.
“I think, on the day, we were the better team but, unfortunately, that doesn’t always win you games of football.
“They put the ball in the net and we couldn’t.
“When you watch it back with a clearer mind the disappointment goes away a bit and you can see it was a really good performance.
“We need to take that into the remaining six league games.
“If we play like that, we’re a problem for any team in this league or the Premiership, in my opinion.”
Jakubiak fitness boost for Dark Blues
Lee Ashcroft, who has to check out of the Saints cup clash, should be fit to be involved tonight while McPake delivered some good news on injured stars Alex Jabubiak and Jordan McGhee.
He added: “We took Lee off and I believe we did that at the right time.
“He’ll be OK for tonight. Jakubiak could potentially be in the squad as well.
“He trained well on Sunday and took no real reaction yesterday and did a wee bit extra.
“He’ll be like a new signing.
“Even watching him train, he’s a fantastic footballer.
“Getting him and McGhee back at this stage of the season is going to be crucial for us.
“Both of them are key players.
“Jakubiak, in my opinion, when we get him going is as good as anyone in this league.
“That’s from seeing him in training and last year at St Mirren. He’s a real handful and we’re desperate to get him back.
“He’ll bring a lot and we know what Jordan can do, he’s close as well.”