Robbie Neilson is hoping improving fitness and increasing options can be major weapons for Dundee United as the climax of the season approaches.
The Tangerines gaffer has not yet given up all hope of catching leaders Ross County in the race for automatic promotion from the Championship.
With, however, the Staggies stretching their lead at the top to eight points with four games remaining after they won their game in hand against Dunfermline on Tuesday, United’s chances of claiming a Premiership return almost certainly rest on successfully negotiating their way through play-offs next month.
Having had to take on the task of rebuilding his team in mid-season, and the pitfalls that come with that, one big positive Robbie sees in those post-season outings for his players is their freshness.
“I think the players are getting fitter to be honest with you. All the players we’ve brought in, the reason you get them in January is because they’ve not been in their team,” he said.
“Unless you can go out and spend the big money to take the best players, you are not going to get that fitness level you want.
“Osman Sow, Peter Pawlett, had not played much, Mark Connolly had played about 15 games, Calum Butcher only a couple, Charlie Seaman not at all and Mark Reynolds had had no games since the previous summer.
“So you are bringing them in and trying to get them fit within a season. It takes a long time but I can see them getting fitter and the data shows me they are getting faster and stronger as well.
“It bodes well for the run-in. It means if we do, we are going into the play-offs with boys that have played 15 or 20 games, who will be up against boys who’ve maybe played 40, 45 games.
“It can make a difference with that freshness, so it’s important we try to keep them as fit as possible and make sure they are ready for the Saturday games.”
With those developing levels of fitness has come increased options, particularly, he feels, in the front area of the pitch.
While he’s occasionally changed his formation, for the most part Robbie’s stuck to a 4-2-3-1 set-up that sees three attacking players just behind a main striker.
With Osman Sow being hit by injury problems since his arrival in January, that’s usually meant Pavol Safranko leads the attack.
Now, though, with players getting to know each other and that match sharpness coming on, the manager believes who’ll be where in his attack is much harder for opposition bosses to predict.
“We put Pavol on the left of the three at Ross County last week and, as well as his goal, he played some good passes inside.
“We put him there because, one, Paul McMullan gives you the pace inside when we use him through the middle. We thought Pav, on the left, could be an out-ball for us physically. Also coming inside on his right foot he can slot balls through and he played two or three.
“He gets up and down as well. When you put a striker there they tend to be a lot higher and get drawn to the central area up front, whereas if you use a midfielder they tend to be a bit deeper.
“He got up and down and I thought he did a very good job for us.
“When he first came in, I played him on the right a couple of times and shifted him over to the left a few times during games as well, so I knew he could play there.
“In my opinion anybody who plays up front can play in any of the four positions and it’s up to them to go and do it.
“We can change it about and rotate it a wee bit so Paul goes up front, Safranko can, Pawlett’s played up front before as well and Clark can be in the middle of the three or move right up, so it gives us a few options there.”