There is as much pressure on Raith Rovers as Dundee in this week’s crunch Premiership play-off.
That’s the opinion of Dens Park manager James McPake as he gears up for the biggest few days of his short managerial career.
The two East coast sides are the only two Championship promotion hopefuls remaining after over eight months of action.
And they face each other at Stark’s Park on Wednesday ahead of the return leg at Dens on Saturday with the prize a place in the final against the Premiership’s 11th-placed outfit.
That target is why Raith will be wanting victory just as much as the Dark Blues says McPake, despite his opposite number John McGlynn saying Dundee are favourites going into the tie.
“All the pressure is on Dundee,” he said.
“Yes, our ambition is to get to the Premiership but, from the start of the season, they [Dundee] would have been looking to challenge Hearts to win the league.
“They find themselves in the play-offs instead — and that will bring an added pressure for them.”
He added: “Dundee would be expected to beat Raith Rovers over two legs and we need to start here at Stark’s Park and try to make them a bit worried; threaten them and hopefully knock them off course.”
‘They want to upset us’
McPake accepts there is pressure on his side from an expectant fanbase but says their opponents will be feeling the strain, too.
“Playing for Dundee, especially in this league, that pressure is always there,” McPake said.
“What I will say, Raith know that they’re potentially four games from the Premiership so there is pressure on that.
“The same pressure is on them that’s on us.
“They’ll be getting excited because they think ‘If we can get through this tie then we can see what comes from the Premiership.’
“Their focus isn’t ‘we finished third in the league, we got through into the semi-finals, that’ll do us, let’s go enjoy our summer.’
“No, they want to upset us and get through us and see what they’d face in a play-off.
“I don’t buy that one, but any time you put on a shirt for Dundee, and I can say it because I played often enough here, then you’re under scrutiny and rightly so because we’ve got a demanding fan base.
“Unfortunately, the fans aren’t here but it’s a big football club and it’s a credit to play for this football club.
“Our players know that. When you’ve got a player like Charlie Adam who was so desperate to come and play for this club, that tells you all you need to know.
“You’ve got Paul McGowan who’s been here for years and is still desperate for success at this football club.
“You see the scenes from the last time they got promoted.
“We need to get this club back to the Premiership, we need the Dundee derbies back.
“There is so much passion here when the big games are on and it’s a fantastic club to play for in big game.
“It’s also a fantastic football club to manage in big games and this is one of them coming up.
“I can’t wait for it.”
No home advantage with no fans
Finishing second and earning a rest until the semi-final also usually comes with the advantage of playing the second leg at home.
However, with no crowds there to cheer their side home the effect isn’t the same.
Despite not having the demands of a Dundee crowd, McPake insists his players will be well aware what it means for Dees.
“I don’t think home or away advantage matters now with no fans,” he added.
“I would love the away end at Stark’s Park and then Dens on Saturday to be rammed. That’s the downside right now.
“We are still in a pandemic and I am conscious of that.
— Dundee Football Club (@DundeeFC) April 25, 2021
“But I can’t help but think what it would have been like when we beat Raith the other week and then down at Queen of the South when the fans heard the Hearts score.
“The fans drag us through. They get on our backs as well, rightly so at times. I won’t criticise them for that.
“There are high expectations here and they want to see effort and nothing left on the pitch.
“That’s what we need to show to get through this tie.”