Dundee United’s legendary skipper Paul Hegarty says it’s great to see league derbies again – he just wishes it was in the top flight rather than the Championship.
The Tangerines will be facing Dundee four times in the league this coming campaign and ‘Heggie’ expects things to be “very competitive” between the two sides as they battle for promotion back to the Premiership.
For his old club, Heggie – who turned out 707 times for United in a stellar career at Tannadice between 1974 and 1990 – says it’s now or never after four years in the second tier.
He told the Tele: “This will be their fourth season since getting relegated and the longer any club is in the Championship, it is even harder to get out.
“Players now think twice about coming to Dundee United and you need to attract the best players.
“Most games in the Championship, most teams are about the same, they are very much similar so Dundee and United need to find a way to be different.
“Livingston, St Mirren and Ross County were more aggressive, stronger and ground out results when they went up the past couple of seasons.
“They had a discipline about them that helped.
“Last season United were doing OK until the final moments of the St Mirren game and then crumbled.”
The Tangerines got to within a penalty shootout last time out but Hegarty says the key this time around is getting off to a good start because he expects the Championship to be as competitive as ever.
The two city clubs are early favourites to be battling for the title but Heggie warns Inverness, Dunfermline and Partick will have something to say about it.
He added: “With Dundee going down it’s great to see the derbies coming back next season but for the wrong reasons.
“I would like to see the derbies in the Premiership.
“Dundee will take points off United and vice-versa but it will be like what happened last term. It will be very competitive.
“Besides the two Dundee teams you have Inverness, Dunfermline and Partick Thistle will be stronger again.
“It’s going to be difficult but you feel the Dundee clubs have to start off like a house on fire.
“I think Robbie Neilson is a very good manager but the players have to take more responsibility.
“They have had three or four managers involved in the last few seasons with Ray McKinnon, Csaba Laszlo and now Robbie.
“Is it the manager’s fault entirely? I don’t think so.
“The players have to take the opportunity this season and grasp it with both hands.”
United have seen a 15% increase in season-ticket sales compared with this time last year, bringing the total sold above the 3,000 mark.
That figure is expected to rise by the start of the league campaign on August 3.
Hegarty appreciates the patience shown by the Tannadice faithful as they’ve seen their team struggle to get out of the Championship. And he says the fans deserve a reward this season for that by seeing the team finally get promotion.
“The fans have been absolutely magnificent,” he said.
“They have been phenomenal in sticking by their team through thick and thin.
“They have had to be very patient, too. Hopefully, that continues this year and they are rewarded with success because they deserve that.
“They turned out in big numbers – 11,000 against St Mirren at Tannadice, 7,500 for Inverness in the Scottish Cup – so I hope they keep backing them with season ticket sales.”