A year ago for Dundee United, the Beftred Cup was very much part of the pre-season build-up but the message from striker Nicky Clark is clear – this time they’re in it to win it.
With the benefit of hindsight, previous boss Csaba Laszlo’s relaxed attitude to the competition was a mistake and the poor results that led to were almost certainly a factor in his sacking last October.
With Robbie Neilson in charge, and even though the main priority has to be promotion from the Championship, things are different.
It’s been a short pre-season for the Tangerines but Clark insists the necessary hard work has been put in and the squad is well-prepared for tonight’s clash with Premiership Hearts at Tynecastle.
“The pre-season has set us up for this game and we are ready to go,” he said.
“We did things differently last year and that’s what you get with different managers but this year we are ready for the Betfred Cup.
“We are going into this competition to try to win it. This is a massive club and that should be the case with any competition we’re going into.
“The league is first and foremost for us, it’s the main aim, to get promoted, but we want to do well in this cup.
“We want to win every game, that’s our aim. Obviously, there will be some blips during the season, there always is, but we want to win when we play.
“Hearts at Tynecastle will be a great atmosphere and these are the kind of big games you want to be playing in.
“We will take a good support down there and, the way we finished last season, we feel we have a point to prove and we want to make it.”
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Tonight’s tie comes less than three weeks after the players reported back for pre-season but the training has been intense and three games, including two in less than 24 hours last weekend at Brechin and Dumbarton, have got the players where they need to be.
“The two games in two days was not easy, there was the travelling as well as the actual games and, obviously, we were not happy with the result at Dumbarton but it was about getting fitness,” added Clark.
“Saturday was a good standard and there is no point in just playing teams you are going to just run over the top of because you don’t get any benefit from that.
“Dumbarton were decent and that’s what you want.
“It was a good day for me because I didn’t play at Brechin on Friday. I got 60 or 65 minutes at Dumbarton and it was a good run-out for me.
“I got 45 minutes last week at East Fife as well and the training has been tough for the past two weeks, so the boys are feeling good. We are looking forward to the Betfred Cup now.
“You need to be ready to go at a club this size and we need to win this league this year. It’s important we get off to a good start.”
With Mark Reynolds not starting at Dumbarton, Clark was made skipper for those 65 minutes he got.
He doesn’t expect to be in that position too often in the months ahead. However, he appreciated the gesture made by the manager and accepts, as one of the senior players now, his responsibilities around the club have increased.
“I was captain for the start of the game and that was nice. The gaffer told me before the match and it was good, though Reynolds is, obviously, the captain of the club and he’s the main man when it comes to that.
“I’m 28 now, one of the older ones and one of the senior boys. It’s amazing how quick the time goes but we have a lot of younger boys in the squad.
“It’s important to keep them right and help them through games at times and I’m happy to do that.”