Ilmari Niskanen has called on Dundee United to build on their first-half display against Hearts last weekend and ensure there is no repeat of their dismal recent performance against Kilmarnock as they bid to reach the Scottish Cup quarter-finals.
The Tannadice side host Killie in the last 16 on Saturday just a week and a half after succumbing to a 1-0 defeat away to the Ayrshire side in a bottom-of-the-table showdown in the cinch Premiership.
Although they go into the tie at the foot of the table, Niskanen feels they can take confidence from the way they started against high-flying Hearts in their most recent match at Tynecastle last Saturday. In that clash, they led 1-0 before Ryan Edwards’ first-half red card paved the way for the hosts to fight back and win 3-1 in the closing stages.
This is a really big game, cup games are always special,” said the Finnish winger. “There are only 16 teams left so it’s a really good chance. We want to go as far as possible in the cup.
“It’s not long ago since we faced Killie and we want to do much better than we did in the previous Killie game.
“Killie played really well in that game and we were really poor, but this is a totally new game. We have played them a few times this season so we know how they play but we have to focus on our own game.
“We really want to continue the way we played against Hearts. The performance, especially in the first half, was really good against a really good opponent.
“But games last 90 minutes so we have to be able to keep that performance up not just for 45 minutes but for the whole 90.
“The run we are on at the moment is definitely not great but the Hearts game really gave us encouragement. It is something we can build on.”
The game against Hearts was Niskanen’s first start since October and only his second start of the season. He hopes his impressive display at Tynecastle signals an upturn in fortunes.
“I’ve been putting plenty of effort in my whole time here,” said the 25-year-old, who was a regular starter under former boss Tam Courts last term. “This season has been difficult personally because I’ve not been playing but I had my chance on Saturday and I did well.
“It was really important for me to perform and do well, so I was really happy from my point of view. I want to hold on to my place and improve. I want to be doing that on a weekly basis now. In order to do that I have to perform every day in training and in the games.”
United will go into the Killie match without the suspended Edward and injured pair Ian Harkes and Peter Pawlett, while Jamie McGrath is described by boss Liam Fox as “touch and go” after suffering a hamstring strain in the warm-up last weekend.