Motherwell host Dundee in the Ladbrokes Premiership tomorrow afternoon in the first 3pm home game since the start of December.
And with the two sides separated by just three points, there is an added importance in what could prove to be a crucial game come the split in eight games time.
The Steelmen will be optimistic about putting recent results behind them and kick starting their form ahead of a favourable run in comparison to recent weeks, which has included trips to Parkhead, Ibrox and Pittodrie.
Despite Dundee’s start to 2017 including clashes with Kilmarnock, Inverness, St Mirren, Aberdeen and Rangers, it was the latter which provided the Dee with their first win of the year.
And ahead of the match tomorrow, ‘Well boss Mark McGhee admitted that the visitors will come in feeling positive following their impressive victory last weekend.
He said: “They beat us earlier this season up at Dens Park, even though we had a ridiculous goal disallowed which I felt changed the game.
“We know what they’re like, they always seem to play with a confidence even when you see them getting beat there’s a belief about them which is impressive at times.”
He added: “On the back of beating Rangers they’ll come here full of confidence and belief and they’ll want to have a go.
“It’ll be a difficult game but we feel our underlying form, despite some results, has been good so we’ll be ready for them.”
The Fir Parkers will be without Stephen McManus, who has suffered a groin injury, while full back Stevie Hammell faces a late fitness test after pulling up injured in the warm up at Parkhead last weekend.
Richard Tait and Carl McHugh will both be available for selection following their return from suspensions.
Dundee skipper James McPake continues to be sidelined through injury, but otherwise Paul Hartley has a full strength squad to pick from.
Craig Clay is confident that Motherwell can string together a good run of form having endured a difficult one in recent weeks.
The Steelmen face Dundee tomorrow, with just three points separating the teams in the Ladbrokes Premiership.
And for Clay, who’s hungry to keep his spot in a squad full of competition, it’s about looking forward now – not back.
Speaking to the press yesterdayg, the 24-year-old said: “It goes without saying – Aberdeen was a disappointment. On Saturday, although we didn’t get the result, I think we went there and gave a good account of ourselves.
“That’s gone now though, we know we’ve got some big games coming up now and it’s just about looking forward.”
He added: “These are the games that we feel and we know that we’re capable of winning. We’ve done our preparations this week and we’re ready for Saturday.
“We’re not putting that sort of pressure on ourselves but we know that we need to put a run together and we also know that we’re capable of that, we’ve got the squad so we’re confident of going and doing that.”
The Englishman returned to McGhee’s starting line up against Celtic after being on the bench for the previous three, and he certainly impressed on the Parkhead turf.
[pullquote]There’s a lot of competition in the squad now, but it’s all healthy competition. I hadn’t played in the last three games before Saturday so I knew that I had to knuckle down and prove a point to the manager.[/pullquote]
And with plenty of competition in the squad, Clay admitted that the fight for places is healthy for the squad.
He said: “There’s a lot of competition in the squad now, but it’s all healthy competition.
“I hadn’t played in the last three games before Saturday so I knew that I had to knuckle down and prove a point to the manager.”
He added: “If you’re in the team you always need somebody to keep you on your toes and who’s ready to take your spot and if you’re not in the team you need to do the same to them so I think the competition is all good and healthy.”
Dundee arrive at Fir Park tomorrow on the back of an impressive 2-1 win over Rangers and currently occupy sixth spot in the table.
Three points separate the visitors from Mark McGhee’s Motherwell, only adding to the importance of tomorrow afternoon’s Premiership clash.
It was Dundee’s first home league win over Rangers since 1992 and goals from Mark O’Hara and Kevin Holt secured the memorable victory.
Ex-Well man Henrik Ojamaa set up the opener with a ball in for O’Hara to finish from inside the box before Holt scored direct from a free-kick leaving Gers stopper Wes Foderingham with no chance.
Joe Garner reduced the deficit after the break when he cracked a fine drive past Scott Bain from 20 yards, but it was too little too late for the visitors to Dens Park.
Dundee gaffer Paul Hartley hoped his side would press and work Rangers more than they had in both previous encounters this season – and the Dee boss was pleased with what he saw.
He said: “I’m really pleased for the players – the plan that we worked on all week was carried out from the first whistle. We got after Rangers. Our intent was to put as much pressure on Rangers as possible and we managed to do that.
“The work-rate was incredible, the fitness levels were terrific and that desire to keep running and put Rangers under pressure, we did that.”
He added: “We know what type of team they are, they try to build from the back. We sussed their system out, how they might go and we just didn’t let them build at all. We were always on the front foot.
“It shows that we can play like that, so from now until the end of the season we have to put those type of performances in every week, with that work-rate, desire and energy.
“We want to get as many points as we can before the split. We managed to get three and I always felt we could get three. But now next week is our focus. The players put so much into the game and it’s got to be like that in every single game now.”
The campaign is rumbling in to it’s crucial stages now, and for Hartley and his squad, the 2016/17 season represents an opportunity to return the club to a top half finish.
Appointed in 2014, the ex-Hearts midfielder got off to a brilliant start to his Dee managerial career – guiding the club to the Championship title followed by a sixth placed spot in the top flight in the 2014/15 season.
‘Well fans need no reminder that that was the season the club slumped into the Premiership play-offs and survived in stunning fashion by beating Rangers 6-1 on aggregate.
Last season though, Dundee finished eighth as the Steelmen surged to fifth, and matches like this afternoon’s are huge for both sides who have set their sights on the top-six.
So far this season, there hasn’t been a prolific scorer leading the way for the Dark Blues. Marcus Haber is the clubs top scorer this term with four goals, while Mark O’Hara, Rory Loy, Paul McGowan, Darren O’Dea and Kevin Holt all have three.
Both Mark McGhee and Paul Hartley will be confident in their sides chances tomorrow, as in the three games last season the ‘Well won once, drew once and lost once – making this one tough to call for the neutrals.
The last time the two sides met at Fir Park though, neither could be separated and they played out a goalless draw.
With a crucial stage of the season ahead for Paul Hartley and his side, as well as Mark McGhee and Motherwell, both sides will be coming in to tomorrow’s match fired up for the occasion.