SCOTT ROBERTSON knows he’ll enjoy a “warm” welcome when he returns to Tannadice for the first time as a Hibs player on Sunday. But the reception he receives will be nothing compared to the furore which surrounded his decision to cross Dundee’s great divide as he made the short walk from Dens Park to join arch rivals Dundee United.
Robertson’s defection five years ago saw Dundee accuse their near neighbours of being “disrespectful”, while some United fans were less than convinced about then boss Craig Levein signing a player from a First Division club to aid their more lofty ambitions as one of the SPL’s leading clubs.
But having watched the Dundee-born midfielder cope with the fall-out from that move, former Hibs and United defender Darren Dods today predicted his former team-mate will take his return to Tayside in his stride.
Dods recalled: “The Dundee fans were not too happy about him joining United, their big rivals. There were probably a few United supporters who were a bit suspicious as both Scott and Paul Dixon arrived at the same time from Dundee, who were then in the First Division.
“But Scott handled that okay. He was a bit quiet when he came in at first but his confidence grew and he settled in quickly. He was the type of player everyone in the team liked to play with, someone who worked hard for the team, a box-to-box midfielder who chipped in with a few goals.
“As for Scott and Paul coming from the First Division, Craig Levein had a good record for spotting players with potential in the lower leagues, guys like Morgaro Gomis from Cowdenbeath, Craig Conway from Ayr United, and Danny Swanson from Berwick Rangers.
“We also had guys like David Goodwillie coming through, Craig put a really good side together.”
Dods, now a veteran stopper with Falkirk, still keeps in touch with 27-year-old Robertson and believes he will prove to be just as important a signing for Pat Fenlon’s Hibs despite his unhappy experience in the English Championship with Blackpool.
Pointing out that Robertson was a Scottish Cup winner with United, where he also picked up two caps for Scotland, Dods said: “It’s a pity for Scott it didn’t really work out down there with two managerial changes in quick succession, with Ian Holloway who signed him leaving and then Michael Appleton. I think Hibs have done really well to get him. It’s not often players like Scott become available as a free agent and once he gets fully match fit having not had much game time with Blackpool he’ll soon be showing the fans why Pat Fenlon went for him.
“I’d reckon that in a full season Scott would be worth eight or nine goals from midfield.
“But I’d also think he’ll get a few vital goals for Hibs between now and the end of the season which should help take some of the weight off Leigh Griffiths’ shoulders.”
Mention of Griffiths’ name raises the mouthwatering prospect of a shoot-out on Sunday between two of the SPL’s leading strikers, the Hibs star having claimed his 17th of the season as he netted the winner from the penalty spot against St Mirren while United’s Johnny Russell made it eight in seven games as his goal clinched a 1-0 win for Jackie McNamara’s side away to second-place Motherwell in midweek.
It was, as Dods agreed, a huge result for the Tayside club, one which means there are now only four points separating Stuart McCall’s outfit and United with Hibs and Dods’ two other former clubs, Inverness Caley and St Johnstone, among those squeezed in between.
He said: “It’s an incredibly tight league. You would say Celtic are away with the title already and Dundee look as if they are all but relegated although they’ll rightly insist it’s not over yet. But other than them there seems to be next to nothing between the rest of the sides.
“It’s great to see all my old clubs so heavily involved. Caley have had a great season despite getting off to a bad start when people were tipping them to be relegated. St Johnstone are also going well and so are Hibs and United, who seem to have got a lift from Jackie McNamara coming in as manager.
“It appears that other than Celtic, no-one is going to have their top-six place sorted until possibly the last round of matches before the split. Even then it could come down to goal difference to decide, which would leave one or maybe even more clubs bitterly disappointed at having missed out by a whisker, so I’d imagine there’s plenty more excitement to come.”
As for Sunday’s match, Dods insisted he couldn’t separate Hibs and United, with Fenlon’s side having been crushed on the opening day of the season at Tannadice before bouncing back to record a contentious win against the Terrors in the Capital.
He said: “I think that result at Tannadice back in August had a lot of Hibs fans worrying this season was going to go the same way as last season and the one before that, but then they went on a great run and were even joint top with Celtic for a while. They seem to have slipped away a bit, perhaps there was too much expectation and teams below them realised they had to up their game against them.
“The win over St Mirren was a big one for them after that disappointing performance a few days earlier and they are still in the Scottish Cup with the chance to get into the semi-finals if they can beat Kilmarnock.
“Similarly, United’s win in midweek was important to them following that 6-2 hammering by Celtic. That sort of result can happen to anyone through there given the size of the squad and the players they have. Celtic were also determined to make amends following their disappointment in the Champions League against Juventus and they really turned it on.”
So, is Sunday set to be a shoot-out between Griffiths and Russell? Dods said: “Hibs have been heavily reliant on Leigh. Apart from Eoin Doyle, they’ve not got too many players who’ve scored a couple or more.
“But Johnny’s goals have been just as vital for United. He was just a youngster coming through when I was at Tannadice but he’s always been a handful.
“Craig Levein nursed him through, sending him out on loan to Forfar and then Raith Rovers although he was thrown in for United at the age of 17.
“Since then he’s developed into a terrific striker. He’s been on fire recently and with Jon Daly being moved back to centre-half at times, he’s been the main man up front for United.
“Sunday is intriguing. Hibs haven’t scored a lot of goals of late but, the St Johnstone game apart, they haven’t been giving much away. United have been scoring more freely but they’ve also been conceding a few. I can see the game ending in a draw but hopefully with Leigh and Johnny on the park we’ll also see a few goals.”