BY IAIN COLLIN – @CCP_sport
LEE Ashcroft was embroiled in a bitter relegation battle with Dundee United last season – but the Dunfermline defender hopes he is now poised to enjoy a promotion struggle with tomorrow’s cup opponents.
Ashcroft was at Kilmarnock last term when the Rugby Park outfit were vying with United to avoid dropping out of the Premiership.
The Ayrshire men prevailed but in the end Ashcroft followed the Tangerines into the Championship after being released by Killie and opting to join League One champions Dunfermline.
The 22-year-old expects to come up against some familiar faces on Sunday when the Pars travel to Tannadice for a final group tie in which the winners are expected to seal progress to the knock-out phase of this season’s revamped Betfred Cup.
And, as the Fifers bounce back from the shock of Tuesday night’s 5-1 thrashing from Inverness Caley Thistle, Ashcroft is convinced the pair can also take their struggles into the top end of the Championship in the coming campaign.
He said: “I’d like to think I’ll be involved in a better battle with Dundee United this season. Hopefully we’ll be fighting at the top, rather than the bottom.
“It wasn’t a good season for either us at Kilmarnock or for Dundee United last season. We were lucky enough to stay up and obviously they got relegated.
“They’ll be a strong team, they’ll be looking to get straight back up and to challenge for that league.
“But we will as well, because I feel that if we keep doing what we’re doing – aside from the result the other night – we could have a good season this year.
“I looked at their team that played last weekend and they’ve still got a lot of players who played last season, and they’ve got players like Willo Flood back as well.
“So, I don’t think they’ll be much different to what they were like last year.
“They’ve got some great players and they’ll obviously be looking for the win, the same as us, to try to get through to the next round.
“Playing against them before the league starts, it will let us know where we are, because they’re going to be one of the favourites and one of the strongest teams in the league.”
Dunfermline manager Allan Johnston insisted his team played well for large spells of Tuesday’s hammering from Caley Thistle but a combination of conceding poor goals and misfortune in front of goal left them on the end of a surprise result.
However, Ashcroft believes the trip to face United, who are a point above the Pars in the Group C table, is the perfect match to try to recover.
He added: “We looked back at the game on Wednesday but when we came off that park the night before we felt like we hadn’t played too badly.
“I think we were a bit unfortunate at times. We could have had a penalty early doors to go 1-0 up and on the night things just didn’t go our way.
“At 3-1 we were chasing the game but when they got the fourth I think the heads dropped after that.
“It’s a learning thing. If we do go goals down we don’t want to go and get pumped. On paper, it looks like we’ve been battered but I don’t think it was like that.
“But we’ve got the perfect opportunity to bounce back on Sunday, especially with the game being on the telly.”