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Young, gifted, but still 'not the finished article'

Jackie McNamara, the Dundee United manager, is determined to hold on to the talented group of players which could win today's William Hill Scottish Cup final.

McNamara heaped praise on the forwards who have contributed massively to the team's 88 goals in 45 games so far this season, even describing Nadir Ciftci as sometimes "unplayable". United's patchy but occasionally thrilling campaign has attracted interest in their batch of young players, and although the club has most of their exciting talents under reasonably long contracts, there is an inevitable risk of losing them to bigger, richer clubs.

Gary Mackay-Steven is out of contract in a year, Ciftci, Andrew Robertson, Stuart Armstrong, John Souttar and Ryan Dow - who signed an extension this week - are under deals until 2016, and Ryan Gauld's contract expires in 2017. Gavin Gunning is out of contract this summer.

"Naturally, you want to keep this group of players for as long as possible," said McNamara. "I know they're not the finished article yet, but the potential is very high. Every day at training I see their capabilities. At every press conference I'm asked about the opposition, but I also see my own players and what they're capable of doing. You're hoping it's the start of something, but in football you never know what's round the corner."

Ciftci, 22, the Turkish former under-19 international striker, has scored 17 times this season. "He's an important player; at times he's unplayable," said McNamara. "I think Ryan Dow, Ryan Gauld and Gary Mackay-Steven, when they are on it, are great. But you need everyone on their top game, not just one.

"[When they all play well together] I can see something will spark it off. A lot of things are key to that. Maybe it's hold-up play, or the ball is sticking well up front and that allows the movement to happen and midfielders to get up. They move about with a freedom and don't get picked up. There are games where it works more than others, but every manager will have their own frustrations with their team because he knows what they are really capable of doing.

"For me, I think Dundee United have been more on it [in good form] this season than off it. The runs we have had and the goals we have scored. We've scored 88 goals this season. I don't know the last time United scored 88 goals. It must be a wee while. [But] St Johnstone are very hard to break down at times. We have to be very patient."

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