James Keatings knows the heat will be on at Dundee United this season — but he’s cool about that.
As the Tele highlighted last month, this campaign will see the summer signing from Hibs going for a remarkable fourth promotion to the Premiership.
He did it with Hamilton Accies in 2014 via the play-offs but the 25-year-old feels it’s the experience of going up with Hearts a year later and Hibs last term that has him perfectly prepared for being a United player.
“Promotion is the target here and I’ve been in this situation with my two previous clubs — one where you are favourites, you are pushed to win it and it’s expected.
“It’s like that here but Dundee United should be in the Premiership, so it’s right it’s that way.
“It’s a good pressure and it’s a burden the boys need to get used to. We know we need to go out to win every single game and keep focused on that.
“It won’t be easy, we found that out at Hibs. But when Neil Lennon came in last summer, he was massive on the mentality of the squad.
“He’d looked at the season before and saw we’d dropped points at places like Dumbarton. He knew he had to change that and he did.
“He got a stronger mentality and I took that on board myself and now I know every game has to be treated as massive.”
The start of league hostilities is three weeks away but, as he looks to the Betfred Cup group stages that kick off with the visit of Raith Rovers today, he sees a similar situation to the one United can expect in the Championship.
“The League Cup section is going to be competitive because we’re up against teams who will see us as a scalp and then have a derby and teams always want to beat their local rivals.
“It is going to be hard work and we just need to be ready, just like we’ll need to be when the league starts.”
Next to that clash over the road at Dundee a fortnight on Sunday, today’s meeting with Rovers has the potential to be the hardest of the other games — United will also face Buckie Thistle and Cowdenbeath.
Keatings certainly sees it that way.
“Raith are a good team, they’re strong and we know that.
“I’ve always found it hard playing against them but I’ve also managed to get a few goals against them so, hopefully, that continues.
“It will be a good one to start off with — a test — and they should definitely give us that.”
Keatings admits he is still working towards peak fitness but, with games coming thick and fast from today, believes he will reach it quickly.
“Most of the boys who played here last season have still got their fitness because it was such a short break for them after the play-offs.
“For myself, I’m not yet as sharp as I would like to be because I’ve had a bit longer off than most of the boys.
“I’m just looking to keep working as hard as I can each day and get that sharpness back so I can get to where I want to be.
“With the competitive games starting it should come quickly and it’s in these games you get that sharpness at the start of the season.
“Friendlies are good but it’s always on your mind that you don’t want to get injured and miss the start of the season.
“You can also be training hard even on the day of these games, so you might not get the sharpness from them you want but, when it’s competitive, you’ll have prepared the right way and be fresh and ready to go.”