Dundee United’s hopes of resurrecting their challenge for automatic promotion were given a timely boost at the weekend as St Mirren crashed to defeat at Livingston.
But if the Tangerines are to drag themselves back into the race for first place, they must regain top form for the most crucial eight-game period of their season so far.
Csaba Laszlo takes his team to Livingston on Friday night knowing the three games they face in a week from then almost certainly must be won if they are to retain a realistic chance of catching the Buddies.
With three games in hand on the table toppers, United know victories over Livi, Queen of the South on Tuesday and, most crucially of all, when St Mirren visit Tannadice on Friday week, would cut the gap to the leaders by at least three points.
Even if the deficit was reduced no more than that, and with the leaders facing home clashes against Brechin on Saturday and Falkirk three days later it looks likely they will secure a quick return to winning form before making that Tannadice trip, maximum points from the coming trio of games would represent a considerable pick-me-up for a United side that’s only won once in the league since the end of December.
That scenario would also crank up the pressure on the Paisley side who, before last weekend, had looked to be cruising to the title. Prior to collapsing to a 4-1 defeat at the Tony Macaroni Arena, they’d won eight and drawn the other of their previous nine league outings.
In the process they’d conceded just five goals and, a hefty Scottish Cup defeat at Aberdeen apart, had been looking pretty much invincible.
That changed at the weekend and it has to be wondered whether last week’s speculation linking manager Jack Ross with English Championship strugglers Barnsley, with whom he even held talks, had an unsettling effect on his players.
It was, of course, the second time since last summer Ross’s services had been sought by another club, Dundee having made a bid to get him before Neil McCann decided to make his stay at Dens Park permanent. Much to the relief of everyone at St Mirren, on both occasions he decided staying put was the better option.
Even so, that other clubs will come calling in the months ahead looks certain and United will be hoping that’s playing on the minds of those in his first-team dressing-room.
If it is, that can help their cause, but the biggest lift they can get right now has to come from within and in the shape of embarking on a winning run.
As others examine the permutations of what’s to come, the best way for United to do that will be by following that old football adage of taking things a game at a time.
Not that one was needed having lost there back in mid-October but the weekend was a reminder Livi are not a team to be taken lightly.
They’ve made the most of United’s postponements to leapfrog them into second spot, three points ahead.
With finishing second meaning one less play-off tie, the first priority this week has to be getting back on course for finishing there, making a win this Friday a must.
With that done, the focus would then have to be on Tuesday and a Queen of the South side who are themselves chasing a play-off spot.
The Doonhamers did go down at Tannadice early this season but two draws there last term were major blows for Ray McKinnon and his team.