Dundee United boss Micky Mellon believes that the Tangerines and Nicky Clark are the perfect match.
The striker was the subject of interest from city neighbours Dundee but Mellon was never in any doubt that Clark wanted to sign the two-year deal offered by the Tangerines.
The manager – speaking before the player’s new terms were announced – said: “I believe that if you want to be a good footballer you go to the place where the environment is right to help you achieve that.
“You have the management in place, the facilities and the people around you to push you on.
“Then you have to back yourself and at Dundee United we put high demands on players.
“The players have to believe they can achieve that or they won’t survive here and they will leave.
“Nicky backs himself to be able to cope with the demands and still thinks he can get better.
“We continually prod and poke the players – we don’t let anyone rest here. We embrace and accept that we are a fantastic football club.
“If players back themselves, they want to stay at United because it’s an environment which makes you better.”
Mellon stressed how Clark made a terrific first impression on him when the gaffer arrived at United in the summer to replace Robbie Neilson.
“I had to look at it when I first came into the club and realised there were a lot of guys who hadn’t played in the Premiership,” he said.
“Nicky was one of them but he is part of a group who have worked hard, attacked every game and improved.
“He is now a guy who makes an impact in the Premiership, which is something we didn’t know at the start of the season.
“But even at 29 years old, he is still improving and he has stepped up to all the asks we have put in front of him.
“I always worry that the one thing a footballer can lose is ambition because when someone no longer believes they can improve and play at a higher level you have a problem.
“Nicky is one who believes, he wants to get better and do it at a higher level.
“Players at this level are bigger, stronger and faster but Nicky has done it and he’s a great example.”
Thank the Lord
Clark’s contribution to United this season has been such that the top scorer has even put Lawrence Shankland in the shade…until Tuesday night.
Mellon was still keen to pile praise on the Scotland man for his 53-yard wonder goal against St Johnstone and also apologised for his own celebrations that saw social-distancing rules forgotten momentarily.
Mellon said: “Shankland hits them a lot in training and sometimes he gets on my nerves doing it – thank the Lord I didn’t stop him doing them!
“I was delighted to see it go in and to come away appreciating the intricacies involved in that.
“That wasn’t instinctive. He knew he was going to do that before the ball came to him.
“That was for me, apart from the execution, the great thing about that goal.
“That is something I talk to the young players here about – you must have a plan before the ball comes to you.
“That was a master class in how you should play the game.
“There is a saying in football that average players react but great players anticipate.
“A great player knows more quickly than anybody else what he is going to do.
“The average player would have taken a touch then thought about what they were going to do.
“He knew ages before it happened what was going to happen.”
Sorry for celebrations
Mellon was caught up in the celebrations with his coaches and players and he now regrets was an instinctive reaction to a great piece of skill from Shankland.
“There have been goals during my managerial career that have been very, very special but that certainly has to be right up there in terms of how close I was to it,” he added.
“I was looking right down the barrel of it.
“I had time to think: ‘If that goes in, that’s some goal.’ I then thought: ‘That’s got a chance.’
“It hit the back of the net and I love football so that was a special moment.”
As for the aftermath, he said: “It was just instinctive, wasn’t it?
“I broke every Covid rule and I apologise for that.
“Football is a game that you love and you show your real emotions.
“I’m not an actor. If I’m angry, you’ll see that I’m angry. If I’m excited you’ll see that I’m excited. If I’m sad you’ll see that I’m sad.
“I find myself on the pitch and I tell myself: ‘Get off, you’re not a player anymore.’
“It was a great moment but I have to apologise. I have to get better at that, maybe count to 10 then start reacting.
“It is difficult because football is very instinctive.
“It is hard to control your emotion and that is why players get booked for dissent.
“But I understand what the government are saying – I get that. We have to get it right.
“There is a virus going about and we want to keep playing.
“I understand what has been said.
“I’m sorry about that moment but we try our best and we will try our best. It is difficult in such an emotional game if you are all-in like I certainly am.”
Meanwhile, United will have both midfielder Calum Butcher and central defender Ryan Edwards fit for the away game against Hamilton Accies on Saturday.
On Butcher, Mellon said: “He is fine and has trained for the last few days.
“He was fine on Monday but hadn’t done any sprinting, which is the last stage of his recovery from the hamstring injury.”
As for Jeando Fuchs, there was more good news, with the Cameroon midfielder aiming for the home St Mirren match for his comeback.
Mellon said: “Jeando is running again. “It looks like, if things keep going the way they are, he will be fine for the St Mirren game.”
United will now face Hibs at home on Saturday, January 30 (3pm kick-off) after the SPFL rejigged the fixture card.
With the Scottish Cup having been suspended until the end of the month, the Tangerines had a free day.
The original fixture was meant to take place on the evening of Wednesday, February 10.