TOM DUTHIE: Dundee United win can put pressure on top dogs Ross County

Ross County are 11 points clear at the top of the Championship.
Ross County are 11 points clear at the top of the Championship.

The return of winter weather last weekend, and the raft of postponements it led to, has given Dundee United the chance to put some pressure on leaders Ross County when the Championship’s top two clash at Tannadice tonight.

First to fall foul of the conditions was County’s Highland derby trip to Inverness Caley Thistle on Friday evening, that one going off because of a waterlogged pitch.

Had it gone ahead, it would have provided the Staggies with the opportunity to stretch their advantage over United in the race for automatic promotion to a massive 14 points.

Their own scheduled action at Dunfermline on Saturday afternoon had to be called off after heavy snow and rain left the East End Park playing surface saturated.

United had already arrived at the ground and most of their travelling support were not that far away when the call-off was confirmed just 90 minutes from kick-off.

That made it a frustrating afternoon, particularly as it was clear the pitch was in no fit state for a game to be played.

But it still means the Tangerines can cut the deficit to their main rivals to eight points if they can beat them.

With another clash between the pair to come in the Highlands early next month, a victory would leave boss Robbie Neilson still believing his side can finish in top spot in the second tier.

To do that United will have to find the form that’s deserted them in recent outings. They’ve managed just one win in four games.

And as well as a dip in performance over that period, United have struggled to find the back of the net from open play.

In the last five games, only Cammy Smith’s close-range opener in the draw at Falkirk was not from a set-piece and the four other efforts to hit the mark have all been from the boot of Nicky Clark, either from the penalty spot or free-kicks.

The effort to improve on that will not be helped by the absence of main striker Pavol Safranko tonight and again when Alloa visit on Saturday, because he is now away on international duty with Slovakia.

The other experienced No 9 in the squad, Osman Sow, would not have been fit for the weekend after aggravating a troublesome calf problem early on in the last outing down at Partick Thistle.

Sow was being checked in training yesterday but the chances are he will not make tonight and will even be a major doubt for this weekend.

That being the case, Robbie has a big call to make when it comes to how he sets up his attack for the next couple of outings.

He does at least have Peter Pawlett back available after the one-game suspension he picked up for his red card in the league win over Inverness. The return of the former Aberdeen man could see Clark pushed right up top and him used in a supporting role.

Another option would be to use Matty Smith as the main striker but given the young attacker has not started since the Tannadice win over Dunfermline back on January 12, that would be a big ask.

Whatever way he decides to go, tonight and in the coming games, the boss will be looking for both more chances to be created and a much better conversation rate.

That will be a challenge against a County team that have hit league-winning form since mid-January.

Their only defeat in 10 games in all competitions was when they went down to Inverness on penalties in a Scottish Cup replay.