SCOTT MERCER reckons Stephen Dobbie’s opponents are the lucky ones – because they don’t need to face the mercurial marksman every day.
The Queen of the South defender has hailed the 36-year-old as the best striker in Scotland this season and insists crossing swords with him in training has been a priceless experience – and a nightmare.
Dobbie bagged his 10th hat-trick of an astonishing campaign to help Queens batter Montrose 5-0 on Saturday, wiping out their 2-1 first leg defeat at Links Park and tee up a Championship playoff final against Raith Rovers.
The former Swansea, Blackpool and Hibs ace now boasts 43 goals and counting for the campaign ahead of tonight’s trip to Stark’s Park.
Mercer lauded: “I don’t think you can look anywhere else for the best striker in Scotland this season, he has been absolutely brilliant.
“Just getting him on the pitch and knowing he is fully fit gives everyone a lift around the club. You know if there is a chance, he will score. And if there isn’t a chance, he’ll make one and score anyway.
“He’s a joy to play alongside and to learn from in training. Defenders in the Championship are lucky, they only need to deal with him four times a season, whereas the defenders at Queens need to figure out a way to stop him every day!
“Playing against players of that calibre can only make you a better.”
While Dobbie’s talent was never in question as a younger man, Mercer believes the Palmerston Park talisman is now a beacon of professionalism in the autumn of his career – and is rolling back the years on the pitch.
“What is he now? About 40? He’ll like that,” laughed Mercer.
“No, that longevity is just a testament to the way he looks after himself. He eats right, does all the sessions in the gym and is just a model pro. I think things are really settled for him off the park as well and it’s just been the perfect match.
“He reminds me a wee bit of John Rankin in terms of his professionalism and dedication, although not quite as bad as Ranks – he goes well over the top!“Stephen has proved that it is worthwhile doing and we are reaping the benefits.”
Queens’ slide into the Championship’s relegation playoff position occurred while Dobbie was sidelined with a hamstring injury. The Dumfries outfit won just two of their 15 games prior to their playoff first leg against Montrose, resulting in Allan Johnston replacing Gary Naysmith at the helm.
It is a position Mercer contends the club should have never allowed themselves to fall into, but is adamant Queens are ready to make amends and secure their survival against the Fifers.
“If you look at the players we have, going right through the squad, I don’t think anyone would have suspected we would fall into the playoffs,” Mercer added. “However, it happened and we can’t rewrite the past. Now, we need to roll our sleeves up and put it right.
“There is no point mumping and moaning. We are in this position and need to go out there, show our quality and stay in this league.”
And former Dunfermline man Mercer, one of a swathe of stars out of contract this summer, knows the Queens squad are also playing for their futures over the next four days.
He added: “It is massive for the club to stay in the Championship – plus most of the boys are up in the summer. We are all playing for deals, whether that’s at Queen of the South or elsewhere. We know how big this tie is.”