THE future's bright, but is it orange?

It is a question which will come to concern Gavin Gunning before he heads off for his summer holidays given that his contract with Dundee United will expire at the end of this season and clubs such as Rangers and Palmero are thought to be waiting with deals of their own. All they will need is to be given the nod.

That is about as much as Gunning was willing to give to suggestions yesterday that he is about to make his final appearance at Tannadice as a United player too. The defender will line up for the home side tonight for the visit of Aberdeen, with United still harbouring slender hopes of capturing a place in Europe for next season.

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It is an aspiration which relies on Motherwell losing both of their final two league matches. The odds of the Tayside club losing Gunning seem significantly shorter.

He was unwilling to divulge his feelings on his future yesterday, though, although he is determined to savour his evening at Tannadice. "It maybe will be my last game at Tannadice," said the defender, who arrived from Blackburn Rovers.

"I don't know. We'll just have to wait and see. I haven't made any decisions yet and I'm not the emotional type. I've had great times here. I think I've done well for the club.

"If I do go, I would like to think I would go with my head held high. You never know. Maybe I will be here next season. I just want to get the [William Hill Scottish Cup] final out of the way and then speak with my family before making a decision from there."

The defender might also seek counsel from Jackie McNamara. The United manager will be available for advice tonight at least, since he is able to return to the dugout following a three-match touchline suspension.

More notable absentees could be players such as Gary Mack-Steven and Stuart Armstrong, with the midfielders among those struggling for fitness tonight.

"Gary has a chest infection so has been sent home. Stuart Armstrong has a hamstring which kept him out the Inverness game at the weekend," said McNamara. "He is very doubtful so we don't want to take any chances with him. Paul Paton and John Rankin are carrying knocks as well."

Aberdeen are simply knocking on the door of European competition for next season. With Motherwell still just a point below them in the league table, the Pittodrie side could still finish in third place and lose out on perks such as a later start in the Europa League next term.

That alone appears to be sufficient enough reason for Derek McInnes and his Aberdeen players to strive to retain second place. The face first United and then a potentially defining home match with Motherwell on Sunday.

"The priority was to get the club back into Europe but now we have done that then second is what we are after," said McInnes, whose side will be without striker Adam Rooney at Tannadice. "We are not happy with just finishing third as there are a lot of incentives for getting that runners-up spot. From the players point of view they get an extra couple of weeks holiday and it allows me to prepare for next season without having to rush it.

"The financial aspects for the club matter as well as it's a decent amount of difference between second and third. If we finish second then it would be an indication of how hard the players have worked this season."

There will be no shortage of effort from United tonight as they prepare for the cup final this month. "I don't think they'll have one eye on the Scottish Cup final," said Ryan Jack, the Aberdeen midfielder. "They can still qualify for Europe so I don't see them fielding a weakened team because this game is important to them."