IF anyone spots Dundee United's forwards shooting dirty looks at their defenders these days, or muttering curses about them under their breath, they shouldn't be entirely surprised.
Aberdeen's Niall McGinn is an obvious threat to United when they travel to Pittodrie this afternoon, but many travelling supporters will fear that their own defending is also a considerable danger.
United have won only one of their last six Clydesdale Bank Premier League games and it has been the defending which has placed growing pressure on the team in general and manager Peter Houston in particular. There has been only one clean sheet in the last nine league games. In the last four games, 11 goals have been conceded.
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"We need to eradicate giving goals away," left-back Barry Douglas said, bluntly. "We know we can score goals and, for a team who can score that amount, we should have more points on the board than we have got at the moment. We just need to try and cut out the errors and be a bit more defensive to get some more wins."
Midfielder Willo Flood is an injury doubt but it is centre-back Brian McLean's suspension that means United could literally rely on one of their forwards to do some of the defenders' work today. Jon Daly could be again withdrawn from the attack to shore up the back four.
"It's not just the defenders," Douglas continued. "It's a team effort which starts from the front. So we have to get back to the drawing board and try to stop it. We can't seem to get to the bottom of it. The fact we're scoring so many goals is promising from an attacking point of view so we need to tighten things up at the other end. I wouldn't say it's to do with nerves. I would say it's more to do with the kind of luck we're having just now. Every wee mistake is leading to a goal."
The last thing United need, then, is to be up against talented and enthusiastic attackers. While McGinn's goals have propelled him to prominence, and the fine form of Ryan Fraser appears to have earned him a move, it is another Aberdeen forward that the visitors will perhaps have to be most wary of.
In the aftermath of the weekend win over Dundee, Craig Brown was effusive in his praise of Cammy Smith, a player who had already caught his eye both in training and in the under-20s. Indeed, the Aberdeen manager had been keen to give the youngster a debut at the beginning of last season – before his 16th birthday – only to discover that Scottish Premier League rule forbade such a selection.
In time, though, the striker made a couple of substitute appearances and completed his first 90 minutes in the weekend win. The Aberdeen native does not lack in confidence, as demonstrated by his fine display, and is keen to further force his claim for inclusion against United.
"I came into the season hoping to go for the youth league again," the 17-year-old explained. "Last year was my first as a full-time footballer and I had my debut at the end of last season, so I was hoping to push on and to be there or thereabouts. But the manager and Archie [Knox, the assistant manager] have shown great faith in me, even at my age, and they've trusted me, just as they do with all the young boys. It's a great thing; if you're good enough, you're old enough.
"Coming from the youth league and feeling the pace of the game and the strength of some players – you're up against big bruisers – you come out of games with a few niggles but nothing serious. I feel I'm a strong enough boy for my age. If I take care of the football side of things, then hopefully the physical side will take care of itself."
Smith, who played a dozen times for the national under-17 side, revealed that while Knox recognises the need for him to build upper-body strength, he was more keen for him to develop his technique. "I was in the gym once a few months back and Archie ordered me out," Smith said. "He doesn't tell me not to go into the gym but he wants us to concentrate of football. He has worked at massive football clubs and he's seen the best young players and he knows what it takes, He's not saying no to the gym, he's saying use it at the right time and don't overdo it."