Today’s trip to take on league leaders Rangers makes for Dundee United’s biggest test since returning to the top flight – and they should enter it with confidence.
That, perhaps, is an odd thing to say, given they are going into the clash on the back of a 4-0 defeat at Kilmarnock prior to the international break, but there are plenty of reasons to be cheerful.
The return of star striker Lawrence Shankland to fitness and the matchday squad is, of course, one.
United should also be encouraged by their performance against the other half of Glasgow’s big two a few weeks ago.
The Tangerines gave champions Celtic a helluva game at Tannadice and can definitely consider
themselves unlucky to have not earned a point from the clash.
As it was, sub Albian Ajeti struck with seven minutes remaining in the only blemish on Terrors boss Micky Mellon’s masterful gameplan.
The new boss is, clearly, an adept coach – and now one with a Scotland striker at his disposal once more.
Besides the heavy loss to Killie, defensively United have been solid and look well drilled from back to front.
What’s been missing is a cutting edge up top – and talisman Shanks will surely bring that, perhaps to Govan this afternoon.
It will be only the 25-year-old’s second appearance of the season, he started the campaign opener and looked dangerous against St Johnstone, so he’ll have a lot to prove.
A repeat of the Hoops’ display with a different scoreline will be exactly what Mellon is after as he tries to lift United back into the top half.
That combination of manager and star man makes the Tangerines a dangerous prospect for Steven Gerrard’s Light Blues – potentially one of the biggest challenges they’ve faced so far en route to sitting top of the pile at this early stage.
Arabs will be hoping Shankland hits the ground running and shows exactly what he can do at the top level but, after a troublesome ankle injury, patience must be exercised.
It may take the former Ayr United man, who notched 28 goals in 33 appearances for the Terrors on their way to the Championship title last season, a while to get back up to speed.
That he will, eventually, is without doubt – and he’ll be as frustrated as any fan to have missed this much football, so far.
Beware the man with a point to prove.
Getting off to a good start could be crucial to Dundee’s fortunes in the coming season.
Last term, the Dark Blues won only twice in their opening seven Championship games.
That sequence of results, which saw the Dee win only two points from four away games, left James McPake’s men sitting fifth and well off the pace set by rivals and eventual
league winners Dundee United.
They can’t afford to fall into the same trap this campaign, particularly given they are going up against a strong Hearts side and only have 27 games to play.
The latter makes it all the more important that Dundee get off to a flyer because, if they don’t, the time required to turn it around simply isn’t there.
A visit to Tynecastle to open the season probably isn’t conducive to a fast start but it will give the Dee a good idea of where they are.
After that, Morton, Raith and Alloa offer huge opportunites for maximum points.
Of course, as we all know, the Championship is never that simple. . .
It only feels like yesterday that we were calling time on the Premier League season but it’s a welcome return to action this weekend, nonetheless.
It feels recent, well, because it was. We only finished the term on July 26 and I can’t see it being a much different story this time round.
Champions Liverpool and Manchester City will battle for the title but I fancy Chelsea to be there or thereabouts.
They’re stronger and Frank Lampard is a winner.
I’ve been vociferous in my desire to get fans back into stadiums but I feel test events this weekend have come at the wrong time.
Covid-19 restrictions are tighter and there’s even SPFL pros in contact with the virus.