Darren Jackson is a man without rancour for issues past or present.

As Dundee United prepare to host Sunday’s derby that will effectively define their chances of remaining in the top flight, Jackson’s recent sour ending at Tannadice did not colour his view of what he believes will unfold this weekend in a critical Tayside derby for United.

Softly spoken and measured with his words, Jackson retains absolute in his faith in many of the players that he brought to the fore at the club.

"It's a good squad and that's why I have really stuck my neck out,” he said."I know the boys, I still speak to quite a few of them and I know the quality they have. I have regard for the boys and so much respect for them. Jackie [McNamara] and the other staff will say the same.

"You are with them every day, you see them more than your family, and you have an affiliation with them. For their sake, you just want them to survive and kick on. I know they are better than results have shown.”

Jackson was part of McNamara’s coaching staff at Dundee United before being axed by the club in September last year. United are currently 8 points adrift of Kilmarnock at the foot of the SPFL table but with Celtic anticipated to win at Rugby Park on Saturday in the lunch-time kick-off, the gap could be slashed considerably this weekend should results go in United’s favour.

The weight that rests on the outcome is considerable.

“This is probably the biggest Dundee derby in two decades simply because of the situation Dundee United are in,” reflected Jackson. “They are all big games and you want to win you derbies but the result is massively important for United. Hopefully they can go and get a result and I think they showed enough last Friday night at Motherwell that they can.

“I know there is quality in there. I have stuck my neck out and said they will survive but I have only done that because I see the quality in the dressing room and people are getting back fit now. It will be a hard game. Paul [Hartley] will be disappointed with his last two results. I saw him on Sunday and he was really disappointed.

"I have played in a lot of derbies and I think the Old Firm is possibly the biggest in the world. But the Dundee derby is the biggest in the world to the fans of the two clubs in the city. It's the same with Edinburgh.

"This is massive. It's the fans' lives and it's always important to beat your rivals. But three points is the most important thing for United at this stage. I'm not even looking at United going down. I'm just looking at them surviving. We are away now and we have to move on. But I am not even thinking about relegation - I still think they can survive. Hopefully they can.”

Chairman Steven Thompson released a statement last month in which he apologised to the Tannadice support for an “abysmal” performance following a 3-0 defeat to Motherwell and he was also scathing of how the club had floundered with the “third biggest budget in the SPFL” under McNamara.

Jackson would be forgiven had he bristled at not just the public nature of the criticism but also in the fact that he could justifiably point to some decent work carried out during their time at Tannadice before the difficulties of this term.

Under his, Simon Donnelly’s and McNamara’s tutelage, United twice finished in the top six, enjoyed back-to-back cup final appearances in the Scottish Cup and then the League Cup and racked up almost £11m in profit for the club through the sale of key personnel.

Those sales, with the trio of Gary Mackay-Steven, Stuart Armstrong and top scorer Nadir Ciftci to Celtic among them, undermined the squad this season while injuries also weakened their hand.

“I’m sick and tired of speaking about it and there are other people in charge,” said Jackson. “But if I could defend Jackie and the staff, we brought players in to complement the players we had there. We lost Ryan Dow, Paul Paton, Chris Erskine and Callum Morris at the beginning of the season. They are four big players and we brought; players in to play with them so that was a big blow.

“But at the end of the day we signed the players because we thought they were good enough and a few of them are coming through now and they are getting high praise from a few people I speak to at Dundee United. But that’s all gone now. It’s Mixu – and I have a lot of time for him – and he’s brought in players to complement what was already there.”