John Rankin admits his heart goes out to punished Paul Paton - and insisted the Tannadice dressing-room is 100 per cent behind him.

Rankin launched a staunch defence of his midfield companion as he gets ready to sit out of a vital period of the season having played his last game of 2014 for Jackie McNamara's third-top side who welcome Ronny Deila's Celtic to Tayside tomorrow.

And the United midfielder has revealed how his close colleague has been badly hurt by recent events which have led to him being banned for spitting by an SFA disciplinary tribunal.

Rankin said: "I work with Pates every day and train with him every day.

"I know what type of boy he is - it's win at all costs - but to be accused of something like that is disrespectful to him.

"I think everybody knows he has not done it and that's probably the biggest insult, that he has been accused of that in the first place.

"Jonny Hayes has obviously come out and said he's not done it and the Aberdeen players know he's not done it.

"We in the dressing-room know he's not done it.

"He is not that way inclined and he is an honest pro.

"To be honest, he is really down that he has been accused of that, not only for himself but for the sake of his family as well.

"It is not a good thing to be accused of that.

"He is devastated but he knows that we, his teammates, have his back.

"I am getting angry just speaking about it because I travel with him every day and know what type of guy he is.

"He is an honest pro and he goes and works his socks off every day in training and during games.

"So to be accused of something that's so dirty is hurting him."

Rankin spoke about the emotional roller-coaster Northern Ireland ace Paton has been forced to go through, having been a mainstay for United up until now.

He said: "When you see Jonny Hayes' reaction and what he has come out and said, I think Pates will take comfort from what other players are saying as well as those in his own dressing-room.

"This is the last thing he wants but to know that your fellow pros agree with what you are saying should be a comfort.

What goes on on a football park is different from other walks of life. You don't get that in the office.

"Even the changing room can be cut-throat when you hear what can be said but this (spitting) is not something that Paul Paton would do.

"He has a young family and there's his parents to consider as well so for him to be labelled with that. It would anger me and it's obviously angering him.

"He has probably got a hundred wee cars going around in his head just now and doesn't know which one to jump into.

"It is horrendous and I feel for him, I really do."