Dundee United may sit 13 places above Hibs in the pecking order of Scottish football, but Easter Road midfielder Scott Allan is adamant that his gradually-improving team should have no fear of his high-flying former club.
The two sides meet in the quarter-finals of the League Cup in Edinburgh tonight, with United third in the Premiership and Hibs fourth in the Championship. Allan, however, won’t be cowed by such a disparity in league positions.
Instead, he will focus on the fact that Hibs, having seemingly put many of their early-season teething problems behind them, are unbeaten in six games, with three of those matches against sides higher-ranked than them. While they have found the going tough against the stuffier, less-illustrious sides of the Championship, Hibs have generally looked far more comfortable against higher-placed opponents such as Ross County, Rangers and Hearts, who have been willing to attack them.
United certainly fall into that category and Allan feels tonight’s Easter Road showdown will suit his side down to the ground. “Man for man, we would fancy ourselves against anybody, including Premiership teams,” he told the Evening News. “We’ve beaten Ross County and Rangers and almost beaten Hearts recently. We’ve got a lot of confidence and I don’t see why we can’t go and beat Dundee United.
“When it’s an even game and both teams want to attack, I think we’ve got players who can hurt teams. We’ve obviously had a few bad results against teams who want to camp in against us and that’s something we need to work against and start picking up points in those games. But United will come and try and open up and play against us, so I’d like to think that would suit us. If we can put in the same performance we put in on Sunday [against Hearts], there’s no reason why we can’t give them a game.”
After a fragmented start to the season in which they were left languishing in the bottom half of the Championship and struggling to provide much reason for optimism among their supporters, Hibs, with their vast array of recent recruits having now had time to find their feet, have started to turn the tide over the past month or so. Securing a place in a cup semi-final would add significant credence to the persistent claims from the Hibs camp that they are a team heading in the right direction. “We were a bit unfortunate with some of our results at the start of the season and even on Sunday I think we deserved to win,” said Allan. “We still need to pick up more points but it looks like it’s starting to come together for us.
“A lot of new players arrived in the summer and a few more after the start of the season, so it was always going to take time for people to bed in and for the manager to get his ideas across. I think this is the first time we’ve had a bit of stability about our team selection and it’s showing in our performances. We’re six games unbeaten so hopefully we can build on it and get to a semi-final.”
Having started four of Hibs’ last five games, Allan feels he is gradually finding his stride in a green jersey. The former United and West Brom midfielder had already given a glimpse of his quality with a majestic display in the 3-1 win over Rangers at Ibrox last month.
He provided further evidence that he is settling in at Easter Road with another excellent performance against Hearts in which, for long periods, he managed to upstage his much-vaunted friends and former Tannadice team-mates, Prince Buaben and Morgaro Gomis.
“I’m pretty happy with my own form,” he said. “I’m just starting to get back to what I know I can do. I’m getting a wee run of games and it’s starting to come together for me. I’ve got my fitness back and started playing regularly, which is helping with my football. There’s definitely more to come, though. I just want to build on what I did on Sunday.”
The midfield triumvirate of Allan, Scott Robertson and Dylan McGeouch, which was crucial to the 4-0 win at Livingston and the draw with Hearts, is set to be broken up tonight, with the last-named suspended following his red card in the win over Ross County in the previous round. Liam Craig and Sam Stanton are the two likeliest contenders to deputise.
“It’ll be a bit of a blow not having Dylan because we were building a good partnership,” said Allan. “I’ve known him for a few years and I like playing with him. We both like watching the same type of players on television and we both like to get the ball down and try and create things. We’ve got a good wee rapport, but I’m sure whoever comes in for him against United will do a good job.
“I know what Robbo can do from our time at United together. On Sunday, he allowed the likes of me and Dylan the freedom to go and create things. He looks like he’s getting back to his best. It’s all coming together at a good time for us.”
Tonight’s match will be Allan’s first competitive one against United, whom he left in January 2012 for West Brom following almost a decade coming through the youth ranks. Despite parting on bad terms with then-United manager Peter Houston, the Glaswegian bears no ill will to the club that gave him his big chance as a footballer.
He still has plenty of old friends at Tannadice and, after a brief substitute appearance against them in a pre-season friendly between the teams at Easter Road in July, he is looking forward to locking horns with his old club in a meaningful match.
“It’ll be a bit strange because I was with them since I was ten but I’m looking forward to it,” he said. “I enjoyed every minute of it and still have a lot of good friends there – both players and people in the background.
“I know Stuart Armstrong, Ryan Dow, Gary Mackay-Steven and Keith Watson. I’d come through the ranks with those boys. I’ve known Dowser and Keith the longest, probably since I was 14. Dowser was the same age group as me and Keith was a few years older but I used to train with his age group. Armstrong’s the same age as me and he’s doing really well for them. I’ve played with him in the Scotland Under-21s more recently and he’s brilliant – just another good player to come out of their youth system.”