Saturday is a decisive day for most clubs in the Premiership as the last games before the split answer some questions, but the Dundee derby could be particularly dramatic for the city rivals.
Any match between the sides carries an edge but both go into this clash with different targets and equal need for points.
The battle for the top six involves seven of the 12 Premiership teams and Dundee United sit top of that ‘league within a league’, occupying fourth place and dreaming of European football next season but also aware that a slip could yet lead to a shock outcome where they end up in the bottom half for their remaining games.
For Dundee, the points are about survival. Six points adrift at the foot of the table, the Dark Blues are looking at catching St Johnstone and getting through the play-off as their most realistic hope of avoiding relegation.
Mark McGhee has said it’s too early to write his side off with six games left to be played, but the manager is without a win in eight games since being appointed. He knows that defeat in the derby would deepen the hole Dundee are in, but that victory on their rivals’ turf could be the catalyst for a remarkable recovery.
The Dundee boss also has an eye on the team they’re aiming to catch and thinks the fixture list sets up a real chance.
“It’s an opportunity and the opportunity presents itself because of who St Johnstone are playing,” said McGhee.
“St Johnstone go away to Celtic and that’s a very difficult game for them. I’m not writing them off, it wouldn’t be at all surprising if St Johnstone go there and get something. But we’re hoping that they don’t because we need that.
“Three points (against United) would get us within touching distance of St Johnstone if they don’t win at Celtic Park, and it would also help from the point of view of the optimism it would engender going into the last five games.
“If we can beat Dundee United away, it would give us the belief that we can do anything after the split.”
Dundee’s predicament means they have to go for the win and that adds to the anticipation ahead of the clash. United can look at the table and know that a single point guarantees them top six but striker Nicky Clark says that isn’t on anyone’s mind as they prepare for the game.
“We’re really looking forward to it,” said Clark. “It’s a big game for both clubs. We’re looking to stay in fourth place and Dundee have got their own things going on down at the bottom of the league, so it’s a massive game.
“The top six is in our own hands, so it’s huge that we make that count. A draw would be enough but we’re going out to win the game 100 per cent. We’re going for the three points.
“We want to stay where we are in the league because it’s so tight at the moment. At the start of the season we were looking at getting to the top six but now we’ll not be happy with just getting into the top six, we want to push on and try to get this European spot.
“That will be tough because there’s a few teams going for it but Saturday’s massive. If we get three points, it keeps us in fourth going into the post-split fixtures.”
Dundee haven’t won at Tannadice since 2004, a fact that McGhee dismissed as “a statistic but not a record” since the teams haven’t been in the same division every year. His aim is to make sure they are both Premiership sides next season and he admits he would rather there was a more positive prize on the line.
“It will be a great occasion,” he said. “It’s a pity we weren’t both fighting for a place in Europe, that would be nice for us. It’s an important game for us and for them.
“It’s got the makings of an exciting afternoon.”