A SUPPORT network is already being constructed around Paul McGowan.

Despite his manager's insistence that the Dundee forward is "not a bad lad", there is every chance McGowan will be sent to prison next month having pled guilty last week to a charge of kicking a police officer. It is the third time he has been convicted of an offence of this nature and, having been ordered to carry out unpaid work last time around as a direct alternative to incarceration, the odds on him avoiding a custodial sentence this time seem fairly high.

It is to McGowan's credit, then, that he is still able to focus on his day job given everything that must be swirling around his head right now. He was named by Paul Hartley in the starting line-up for Saturday's game against Aberdeen and put in a typically tenacious performance. He was unfortunate not to win a first-half penalty when Jamie Langfield thundered into him as the pair competed for a high ball, and did not shirk or look to hide. He was unable to directly influence the outcome of the match - an Adam Rooney goal was cancelled out by Stephen McGinn's equaliser for Dundee - but his commitment could not be called into question. Hartley said afterwards the club will stand firmly behind McGowan regardless of the outcome, and will continue to select the player for all of Dundee's matches until his sentencing.

Football dressing rooms are rarely places where huge levels of sympathy are doled out to those going through a hard time but on this matter McGowan's team-mates have vowed to stand shoulder to shoulder with him until his fate is settled.

"Gowzer's personal life is Gowzer's personal life," said Kevin Thomson, the Dundee captain. "But he comes into work and he's a terrific boy, so if he needs any support we're all there for him. He's a terrific trainer and if you see the way he trains you'll know that. His application to the game is second to none and he doesn't need any encouragement to work hard, that's for sure. He's a terrific boy and we're all here to stand by him."

McGowan may be unavailable for selection by the time the league split comes around. The hope is that he will have played his part in helping Dundee into the top six, something that would go down as a significant achievement in the club's first season back in the top division. With four matches to play before the split, they lie two points shy of Hamilton Academical in sixth place but remain confident of making up the ground.

"I think it would be a big disappointment not to make the top six when we're so close," added Thomson. "It's like getting to a semi-final - you want to get to the final - and I think finishing seventh is probably the worst position you can finish. It's in our hands and I think if we can win two or three of these games then we'll be right in the mix."

Saturday may go down as the day when Aberdeen's title challenge finally evaporated. The draw, combined with Celtic's comprehensive victory over Dundee United, leaves them five points behind the leaders having played a game more. It would take an almighty turn-around for them to be crowned champions now.

"This one feels more like a defeat," admitted Rooney whose goal was his 25th of the season. "Once we went 1-0 up I fancied us to go on and get another one. But it wasn't to be. We conceded a soft goal and it's disappointing to throw away two points. We just have to make sure that we re-group. There's a break now but we'll work hard and make sure that we go and take maximum points from here on in."

If only Rooney had a Scottish granny. There is no place for him in the Republic of Ireland squad for their match against Poland despite manager Martin O'Neill revealing recently that the Aberdeen forward is on his radar. The player knows there is little he can do but to keep scoring regularly at club level and hope that is enough to earn selection.

"It would be nice to get a call-up," said the former under-21 international. "I think everyone would love to play for their country. At the minute I just have to make sure I'm doing my job here. If I'm scoring goals week in, week out you never know what comes. I've not spoken to Martin O'Neill or anyone else with the Ireland team. There are a lot of good forwards in the Ireland squad who are scoring everywhere, especially in England. It's good for the country to have competition. Whatever happens, happens."