With so much to play for in the last few weeks of the season, Dundee United have the perfect preparation for the forthcoming Scottish Cup semi-final against Rangers when they entertain newly crowned SPFL Champions Celtic at Tannadice on Saturday, live on Sky.
After managing to secure a place in the top six last season by the skin of their teeth, the progress United have made this year under Jackie McNamara has been very impressive.
A top-three finish is still within reach, while the much-anticipated Scottish Cup semi-final against Rangers gives them a chance of reaching the campaign’s showpiece occasion in May.
On their day United are one of the most exciting sides in Scotland with players attracting interest from big clubs south of the border.
John Souttar has turned down the opportunity to sign for Sunderland, while Andrew Robertson was courted by both Everton and Swansea in the January transfer window and now that he has made his international debut a move to the Barclays Premier League looks likely sooner rather than later.
Gary Mackay-Steven is a player very similar in style to a former United frontman who has a big part to play in Derby’s promotion bid, Johnny Russell, and Stuart Armstrong is clearly destined for bigger and better things in the next year or so.
One man who doesn’t get as much recognition but who is equally impressive is striker Nadir Ciftci. At 22, Ciftci looks much older and certainly plays as though he has plenty of experience and has made a real impact on Tayside this season.
His formative years were spent in Holland with ADO Den Haag before he earned himself a transfer to Portsmouth. Following another couple of moves to Turkey and back to Holland, Ciftci has now found a club where he gets a regular game and is a genuine goal threat.
Despite representing Holland at youth level, Ciftci has chosen to play for Turkey and is set to make his international breakthrough soon.
Jackie McNamara has worked well with all of these young players and even allowing for their poor form around Christmas, the reality is that this could be one of the most memorable seasons for United fans in recent times.
Clearly, the Scottish Cup takes on added significance because they’re just one win away from a chance of securing the trophy and Celtic are sure to give them a tough test.
Since retaining the title, Neil Lennon has chosen to rest some of his key men who have served him well this season and promoted some of his younger players to see if they can handle the demands of first team football.
Seventeen-year-old Liam Henderson has certainly made his mark by scoring in Celtic’s 5-1 win against Partick Thistle that secured the title and last weekend he was joined in the starting line up by Eoghan O`Connell when he made his debut at centre-half against Ross County.
Despite Lennon introducing one or two younger players, the make-up of the Celtic side is still strong and this is a game that will suit Utd`s preparations as they look to take on the huge challenge Rangers will pose them next weekend in the Scottish Cup semi-final at Ibrox.