Gary Mackay: Third’s almost gone, so let’s attack in the Cup

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It’s interesting that Paulo Sergio is trying to maintain a degree of understanding with regards to expectation when he talks now about just trying to make sure we get into the top six.

That’s as a result of the changes to the squad and I can relate entirely to what the manager is saying. He’s lost some important players and then on Saturday he finishes the game against Dundee United without key men like Andy Webster, Marius Zaliukas and Ian Black, three of the biggest characters in the squad. That’s always going to take its toll.

Having said that, the one thing we’re just not doing is getting to the byeline and getting quality balls into the box. That needs to improve. Our lack of cutting edge at the moment is worrying. Our performance on Saturday was probably best summed up by United manager Peter Houston, who said his team didn’t do a lot in the game, but they still did enough to win it.

Missing David Templeton was a blow, but I also feel we need to start playing 4-4-2 at home to introduce more width and potency. I’d be very disappointed if we go into the St Mirren game in the Scottish Cup with anything other than 4-4-2.

The preparation for that game a week on Saturday is now of paramount importance. You want to be judged on your league form and we have a tough trip to face Rangers at Ibrox this weekend but, considering how far off third we are, the cup game has now become our biggest of the season. I wouldn’t say third has totally gone, but Motherwell, St Johnstone and Dundee United all have a bit more momentum in the league than we do, which means we have to be looking over our shoulders. It’s going to be a hard spell for the team between now and the end of the season.

There seems to be a lack of certainty around the team just now and the fact the manager’s contract is up at the end of the season can only add to that. We now need to pick ourselves up in the next week or two, and progress to the semi-finals of the Scottish Cup is probably the best way to do that. The Cup is certainly winnable, particularly if Dundee United can continue their excellent recent form by beating Celtic. If we were to lose the next two games, however, the atmosphere around the club would really deteriorate. It was clear after United’s second goal that the fans are frustrated.

Hopefully the arrival of Craig Beattie can help bring us some much-needed spark for the closing months of the season. However, I have to question the logic of the whole process that led to him being brought in.

I don’t know enough about Beattie as a player to make a judgment on him but I’m absolutely bemused by his signing so soon after letting a fit and firing John Sutton leave in January. Sutton did really well last month and was integral to our most comprehensive away win of the season at Easter Road, yet we’ve effectively replaced him with a player on a short-term deal who hasn’t played for almost two months and will probably need a bit of time to get up to speed as a result. Now I’m not having a go at Beattie at all, he may indeed be the man who can give us a much-needed cutting edge. But I just can’t see any logic in this whole process of letting an in-form Sutton go in January and then replacing him with a relatively unknown quantity a month later. I hope I’m proved wrong.