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Wilson vows to back United teens

Dundee United's Mark Wilson admits it is time the older heads started helping Ryan Gauld and John Souttar face up to first-team football.

Playmaker Gauld, 18, and 17-year-old defender Souttar were both inspirational during the Tannadice side's six-game run of consecutive victories just before Christmas.

But boss Jackie McNamara admitted the pair became jaded as United's impressive form collapsed, giving way to a streak of half a dozen games with a win.

The duo were sent to Spain for a sunshine break by their worried manager last week in a bid to recharge their batteries.

Both teenagers are now back in the squad for Monday night's Scottish Premiership clash with St Johnstone at Tannadice.

But Wilson, 29, says United's more experienced campaigners must ensure their rookie colleagues are not left to shoulder so much responsibility this time.

The former Celtic full-back - this week handed a new 18-month contract - said: "We're hoping that John and Ryan will come back in refreshed after their break, because results have been lacking in the last few weeks. Our performances have simply not compared to how we played in the first half of the season.

"We were flying, we were fresh. But the life has been sucked out of us lately. When the young ones get tired, maybe it takes it out of us older ones as well.

"Hopefully the two young ones will come back firing on all cylinders because they were the stars of the show who were making us tick.

"Maybe the older characters need to shoulder that responsibility and work with these young guys, because it is all good when the football is flowing and we are beating everyone 4-1 but when it gets tough as it is now, the older more vocal guys have to stand up and help the young ones.

"I had a taste of it when I was young when results were poor and the crowd was booing.

"This is guys like Ryan and John's first taste of it and it can be a daunting experience. A year and a half ago they were playing youth football; now they are taking the SPL by storm, but it's hard to adjust.

"Man United had a group of youngsters back in the '90s who did the same sort of thing but their kids were world-class."

United sat second on Christmas Day, just 10 points behind leaders Celtic. But a 4-1 defeat by St Mirren sparked a run of four defeats and two draws which saw them slide down the table to fifth.

Wilson admitted: "It's hard to get your head round how the results have turned. When it was going well, we thought we were invincible. We were looking up the table and starting to wonder, 'How close can we get to Celtic?'.

"We went to Parkhead and were seconds away from beating them. It was comfortable for us and we were all wondering how good the team could become.

"But to lose one game and for it all to fall apart is strange. We need to put it behind us because we can't go on like this."