Unbelievably, it’s been almost a whole year since I last stepped foot in Dens Park to cover a game.
It’s an absence, in large part, due to the coronavirus but also my covering of city rivals Dundee United and the excellent work of colleague George Cran reporting all things Dark Blues related.
That was an awfully nice thing of me to say about George, wasn’t it?
Anyway, this afternoon I make my return and in my time away from Sandeman Street it’s not just United I’ve had the pleasure of watching.
The Dee’s Championship opponents today, Dunfermline, have been a regular assignment – often a highly enjoyable one.
I’ve seen Stevie Crawford’s men in action twice this term and been impressed both times – their fantastic 2-1 win over title favourites Hearts and the thrilling 2-2 Fife derby draw at Raith Rovers a fortnight ago.
Defeat to Morton and exiting the Betfred Cup at the hands of St Johnstone in midweek has followed so the Pars are a little off form.
However, make no mistake, they remain formidable foe James McPake’s men should be very wary of.
Unbeaten in all competitions until that 2-1 loss to the Ton at East End Park, scoring goals for fun and not letting too many in at the other end, the Fifers have looked best-suited to mounting a challenge to league leaders the Jambos all season.
For the Dark Blues, pre-season favourites to push Robbie Neilson’s Jam Tarts for the second-tier title, retaining that tag counts on picking up results against the likes of Dunfermline and others in the hunt.
It’s something Dundee have failed to do so far this term but did appear to have rectified that in a well-earned Desmond (2-2 draw) up at Inverness – another side you imagine will be in and around the play-offs.
Doing it on their own patch, however, is more important.
To be fair to them, Dundee have been decent at Dens in recent times – not that I’ve had the pleasure of witnessing it – and look to be turning a corner just when it seemed like boss McPake was on a shoogly peg.
The Dark Blues have two wins and a draw in three league matches at home this season and I fancy them to keep up that unbeaten record this afternoon.
A point would be acceptable against a good Dunfermline side but three would be ideal, in a weekend where leaders Hearts are in Scottish Cup final action, to push the Dee back into the mix at the top of the Championship.
A win would leave them just two points behind the Pars and six off the Gorgie side who, albeit, have a game in hand.
It’s a position that, a few weeks ago, seemed unlikely and one most Dees would’ve bitten your hand off for.
There is, however, the risk they lose today and sink further into the mire, focusing their attentions to the other end of the table.
It’s a truly pivotal contest.
It can’t have been an easy decision to make, so huge credit goes to the Dundee United coaching team for agreeing to wage cuts in these trying times.
Not only does it help safeguard United’s financial future as they try to navigate the coronavirus minefield, it also reassures supporters the football staff truly have the club at heart.
Micky Mellon and his backroom team could have, justifiably, turned round and shut down negotiations over reduced pay but it’s just not in their make-up – these men are in it for the football.
I imagine it’s just a case of dotting the Is and crossing the Ts on 20% cuts for most of the players now, although, I can see some on lower earnings altering or rejecting the proposals outright.
For that, they cannot and should not face any criticism. These are young men trying to make their way in the game and the world with outgoings just like anyone else.
One thing that is clear from all of this is team morale at United will be high going into today’s clash with Hibs at Easter Road.
The Tangerines are in it together, including No 2 Stevie Frail, hopefully joining nine players in
returning from a Covid-19 ordeal, and they’ll need to be against third-placed Hibs.
It’s a huge test of the Terrors’ top-six credentials and I fancy them to go to Edinburgh, shock a few and get something.
Am I biased as a buddy? Yes, but that doesn’t mean the Betfred Cup semi-final line-up isn’t terrific for Scottish football.
I have, just about, calmed down after St Mirren spanked Rangers 3-2 thanks to a dramatic late Conor McCarthy winner to set up a last-four clash with Livingston.
It gives the Buddies a great chance of making the final next year, while it’s also pleasing to see St Johnstone battling it out with Hibs for a place in the showpiece.
However, I can’t help but feel this is a huge chance missed for our city clubs, Dundee in particular, to taste long-awaited major success.