Dundee’s players will emerge from their 12-day break ahead of the Premiership play-off semi-final refreshed and re-energised, insists boss James McPake.
In fact, he says he’s having to keep a lid on training to ensure his Dark Blues “peak” next midweek against either Raith Rovers or Dunfermline.
The Championship’s runners-up are still waiting to find out who they will face in Wednesday’s first leg with the two Fife rivals inseparable after their quarter-final first leg.
The concern sometimes is an extended break from playing can kill a team’s momentum.
However, McPake insists it is nothing new and is treating the time off in the same way as an international week.
And he says the shortened season will enable his Dark Blues to come into the play-offs at full strength.
He said: “It’s not a concern for us having the break. We are treating it similar to an international break.
“A lot of our players have come across international breaks when they are in the Premiership.
“We’ve all experienced 12 days away from games so it’s nothing new.
“We are still training hard and the beauty of this season with only playing 27 games, yes we’re at the end of the season, but we can still train relatively hard.
“It’s been a short season so the players are fresh, the players are ready and are looking good.
“What the break has allowed us is to protect a few players and give them an extra couple of days.
“Jordan Marshall and Liam Fontaine would have been available had we had a game on Tuesday.
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“But it’s given a few extra days to get them to another level, where we want them to be for important games. That’s been a positive.
“Now, we are looking really good.”
Quarter-final second leg ‘will be cagey’
McPake and assistant manager Dave Mackay made the trip to Dunfermline in midweek to see the Pars host Raith.
That first-leg clash finished 0-0 in a low-key encounter.
And the Dens boss expects another close game this weekend at Stark’s Park as the pressure raises even higher.
On Tuesday’s 0-0 draw, McPake said: “The game was kind of what I expected. These games are nervy and there is a lot riding on them.
“We thought it would be quite cagey and didn’t expect to see a 4-1 or a 5-1 like we’d seen earlier in the season in such an important game.
“There were a few chances, either team could have won it but a draw was probably a fair result.
“I think Saturday will be another cagey one. It’s another Fife derby but the teams know they are just a game away from the chance to play us in the next stage.”
Keeping a lid on training
The stakes will raise even further come Wednesday night but McPake says his squad has the personalities and experience to deal with that.
And he says finishing second, getting this week off, will also make his job easier in the semi-final.
“When you get to this stage of the season there is a lot of pressure on the games but we do believe in this squad,” he added.
“We have players who have been in this situation before, some have had success, some have had sore ones in these play-offs as well. They have experienced both sides.
“I think that’s really important.
“Both Dunfermline and Raith will have experienced play-offs as well and then the team coming down from the Premiership will have that, too.
“Yes, we’ll use that experience but it just comes down to what you do on the pitch. The pleasing thing is right now our squad is very healthy, the players are on a good run and there is a bit of a buzz about training.
“We have to keep a lid on that to an extent because we want to peak next Wednesday night and then carry that on to the Saturday.
“That’s also a bonus of finishing second.
“It’s tough to go Tuesday-Saturday-Wednesday-Saturday. I think our squad could have handled it but we would have had to make a fair few changes compared to what we might need now.”