The focus in recent days has been about the beginning of the Mark Ogren era at Tannadice, but for Dundee United head coach Robbie Neilson the focus is on Saturday’s Scottish Cup fourth round tie against Montrose and embarking on a cup run that will bring smiles to the faces of the club’s fans.
United make the relatively short trip up the east coast to Links Park to take on the League One side who knocked out Annan Athletic 4-3 in the third round. With United playing a league above, and heavy favourites to progress, Neilson knows his players must match their opponent’s intensity first and foremost.
“We are really looking forward to the game,” he said.
“I think it is an opportunity to progress in the cup, but we know that you play against any lower league team we get that extra 15, 20, 25%.
“So, we know we have to match that and then make sure that our quality comes through.
“I would like to go on a real good cup run.
“I’d like to try and progress as far as we can because I think it’s great for the club, but also for the fans it’s an opportunity to go and enjoy themselves.”
Neilson’s side got back to winning ways in the league last weekend with a 1-0 win over Dunfermline at Tannadice and Neilson could perhaps be forgiven for wanting a league game this weekend as he seeks to build momentum for the promotion challenge. However, for Neilson the competition is not as relevant as ensuring United win matches.
“As long as we’ve got a game that’s the main thing,” he said.
“I think it’s carrying that through and we try to build on the momentum by winning.
“It doesn’t really matter what competition we are playing in or who we are playing against.
“It is about winning and continuing that through and hopefully we can do that on Saturday.”
Neilson has begun his January reboot of the United squad with four singings already. Two of those new arrivals, Cammy Smith and Aidan Nesbitt, played in the win and impressed the gaffer with their contributions.
“I knew when I brought them in that they would bring quality to the team,” he said.
“I think Cammy played very well on Saturday, I think Aidan is still a little bit away, so he will play in a reserve game to try and build his fitness.
“I think he will be a little bit away from a start, but you can see the quality that both of them bring and also getting Nicky Clark back was a big bonus to us.”
The United head coach expects Montrose to play with intensity and as long as his players match it Neilson believes the team’s quality can shine through to victory.
“We’ve had them watched a couple of times,” he said.
“We’ve watched some of their games, I got the game from Saturday.
“They play 4-3-3, they’ve got real good energy in the midfield, they’ve got a bit of pace in the wider areas and they’ve got a bit of experience in the two centre-backs, but we know that if we go there and, one, match the intensity which will be the key at the start of the game and then the quality should come through.”
In any game between teams playing in different leagues there is the risk of complacency, however Neilson is in no doubt professionalism and hard work is required.
“We will go up there and we will be as strong as we can be, and we will be focusing on it,” he said.
“We will be very professional in what we do to make sure that we give ourselves the best opportunity, but we know it’s the cup and it is always difficult when you go away from home against a lower league team.
“We know that we ned to perform and we have to work to get the result.”
Looking further ahead, United will visit Ayr United on league duty in what is being billed as one of the biggest games of the season so far for United, but Neilson is keeping his focus solely on this Saturday.
“We came back into training on Monday morning and before we started training we spoke about the Montrose game,” he said.
“The most important thing for us is that we have to progress in this cup, we have to try to get as far as we can in the cup and we have to bring some enjoyment to the fans.
“The fans want to go to cup games, they want to go to new venues.
“They want to win, they want to wake up the next day and watch the draw and see who they get in the next round and they want to go and beat them as well and we want to do that.
“We want to give them that back because this place has not had a lot of fun in the last four or five years and winning in the league helps but getting a cup run is great for them and we know that we’ve seen four or five years ago that we were taking huge crowds to Hampden and we can do it again.”
Montrose play on a plastic pitch at Links Park and while that may add anxiety to some coaches and players, Neilson has no such concerns.
“To be honest nowadays people talk about plastic pitches, but all the kids come through on plastic pitches,” he said.
“We train regularly on it, so it makes no bearing to me.
“It is actually, for a lot of our players, it is a lot better than going to muddy, grass pitch in the middle of January.
“So, we are looking forward to going up there, it is a good pitch and it is one I think we can play good football on.”
Meanwhile, Neilson has revealed his excitement at new owner Mark Ogren’s plans for the club.