Jim Goodwin is confident Dundee United won’t collapse under the strain of relegation pressure - so long as his two pillars at opposite ends of the park stay strong.
The Tannadice boss lavished praise on returning skipper Ryan Edwards after he delivered a towering display at the back in Saturday’s 1-1 draw with St Mirren - insisting he is “as good as any centre-half out there” at the top of his game. Edwards had been dropped for a draw at Livingston a fortnight ago after coming under fire from fans for an error-strewn display against Aberdeen.
But Goodwin had no hesitation recalling the 6ft 5in stopper with Charlie Mulgrew injured and together with Steven Fletcher, who produced a wondergoal to open the scoring against the Buddies, the United gaffer reckons he has two of the best players in their position in the top flight. United are two points adrift of second-bottom Ross County with nine games to go.
And Goodwin reckons Edwards and Fletcher are massive for their survival hopes. He said: “Ryan was excellent. When we were naming the team against Livingston I had a conversation with Ryan and said that sometimes it is good to come out when you are going through a difficult period and all the attention is on you.
“When you feel as if everyone is coming for you at all angles, I think it’s good sometimes just to take a step back. I knew he would get back in the team, and with Charlie missing on Saturday, the obvious replacement was to put Ryan into that position.
“I thought he was excellent, he really was, I can’t think of a mistake really. He maybe dwelt on the ball a little bit 10 minutes before half time, but I think that’s the only thing you could maybe point the finger at him for. He won his headers, made good decisions, cleared his lines and kept his game simple, which is all we have asked him to do.
“He’s a terrific defender, and when he is on his game he is as good as any other centre-half out there. So, hopefully he’ll take a bit of confidence and a bit of belief from that performance.”
At the other end of the park Fletcher, who turns 36 this week, led the way for United with a piece of individual brilliance to open the scoring against the Buddies for his seventh goal of the season. The 6ft 1in hitman terrorised the St Mirren backline with his non-stop running, aerial dominance and intelligent link-up.
And Goodwin said: “I always knew that Fletch was a good player, and I obviously kept an eye on his career. I saw him playing down in England and at the highest level in international football as well.
“I probably didn’t know just how good he was, or maybe didn’t give him enough credit. Since working with him in the last couple of weeks, technically he is so, so good.
“He’s one of the best target men in the league. When that ball goes up to him, centre-backs aren’t getting an easy time of it. He wins his fair share of headers, but not just that, his all-round hold-up play and link-up play, bringing people into the game and linking the game up is terrific.
“I’m delighted for him. He’s been a big player for me since I’ve came in along with Charlie Mulgrew, Ryan Edwards, those experienced guys. Mark Birighitti, I have to say, too. As a manager you rely on those experienced ones to look after the dressing room when you are not there, and they have been terrific.
“They are all top pros who are all extremely disappointed with how the season has went, and they are all desperate to make amends before it’s too late.”
United face a daunting trip to Ibrox next to face Rangers and Goodwin is hopeful Mulgrew will be available. He said: “Charlie picked up a small injury in training on Friday and unfortunately wasn’t able to be part of the squad.
“He’s been excellent the last couple of games. He’s a calming influence sometimes on the younger ones around him too. Hopefully Charlie won’t be too long.”