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All Change For Dundee’S James McPake

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This time last season, James McPake was involved in a “nightmare” situation at Hibs, frozen out of the side as the Easter Road outfit battled without success to avoid taking part in a relegation play-off.

The big defender could only watch helplessly from the sidelines as his team ultimately lost to Hamilton over two legs and dropped down to the Championship.

Fast forward to the present day and the contrast could not be sharper.

McPake has been an integral part of Dark Blues boss Paul Hartley’s side all season and he is relishing the remaining games of the campaign.

Those matches start tonight against league leaders Celtic with Dundee determined to cause an upset as they look to battle with neighbours United and St Johnstone for a fourth-place finish.

McPake said: “There is still pressure but it’s a good pressure.

“The pressure now is to try to go and win as many games as possible and finish as high up the league as we can.

“Last season at this stage was a nightmare.

“We were needing a win to escape the play-off place but we never got it.

“So give me this any day of the week — the six games coming up over going to Ross County, Motherwell and St Mirren. Those teams are all fighting for their lives.

“They’ll be scrapping and I don’t think those matches will be about pretty football.

“It’s about teams picking up points.

“I’m glad that we managed to make the top six.

“Now we can go out and play in games that can get us up the league, rather than looking over our shoulder.”

Indeed, McPake admitted that the Dundee players are determined not to rest on their laurels after making it into the top six.

McPake said: “The first aim this season was to stay in the league.

“We said at the start if we managed to finish in the place above the play-off spot then we would be happy.

“That was the biggest thing but that probably wasn’t our aim inside the dressing-room.

“When you see the players we brought in through recruitment, we knew we were a better side than going and fighting in a relegation battle.

“We were happy that it was in our own hands to get into the top six.

“We managed to do it so we’re delighted.”

When asked if another target was overtaking local rivals United, McPake stressed: “Yes, of course it is. We’ve got six games to go.

“So it’s possible and we need to pick up as many points as possible.

“It would be nice if it was going to come down to the last game of the season against Dundee United.

“What a last game it would be if we could manage to be close to them and both teams were in with a chance of finishing in that fourth place.

“We’ve got to just take every game at a time. It’s going to be six tough games.

“We’re looking forward to them as they’re also going to be good games.”

The current feel-good factor at Dens continued last week when Hartley signed a three-year contract extension, a development that delighted McPake and the rest of his team-mates.

The centre-half said: “It’s great for everyone. We’d all say the same thing, that we want him here.

“He’s great to work with. He’s fair and he can be hard at times.

“That’s what you want as a manager. He’s been the focal point as to why we’re good.

“He’s always pushing us on to look above, rather than down the way, so mentally that’s great for players.

“People will be saying you should be doing that anyway but when you’ve got somebody like him on at you all the time you start believing it yourself.

“Him signing a new deal is fantastic for everyone signing at the football club.

“Greg Stewart signed a new deal, so did Scott Bain and I signed an extra year.

“This foundation is being built for us to go onto bigger things in the future.”

Dundee will face a Celtic side tonight still hurting and feeling a sense of injustice following Sunday’s controversial Scottish Cup semi-final defeat to Inverness.

That loss also put paid to the Hoops’ hopes of securing a domestic treble this season and McPake is expecting a tough test against Ronny Deila’s side.

McPake added: “I don’t know so much if it’s going to be a reaction.

“We’re expecting Celtic to come and be Celtic. They’re the best team in the league.

“They’ve got very good players and they’re a very good team.

“So it’s going to be a tough test and we’re going to have to be right up for it if we’re going to get anything out of the game.

“They’ll be coming here as disappointed as any team who have just lost a semi-final.

“They’ll be disappointed but they’ll be out to make amends and give their fans something more to cheer about by taking another step closer to winning the league.”

Dundee will be without the injured Garys, Harkins and Irvine, as well as Paul McGowan who will be confined to his house in Airdrie after being sentenced to a restriction of liberty order last week for police assault.

And McPake admitted the midfielder will be a big loss for the Dark Blues.

He added: “Paul will be a massive miss to us because he’s a top player and drives our team on.

“He’ll do the punishment he’s been given and come back next season even better.”

Source: The Courier

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