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Aug 8, 2014

Hartley confident for season ahead

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Dundee manager Paul Hartley believes his side could not be any better equipped as they prepare to kick off their Scottish Premiership campaign.

The Dens Park club will make their eagerly-awaited return to the top flight at home to Kilmarnock, when they will unfurl the Championship flag.

The Tayside club have been busy signing 12 new players to help them handle life back in the top tier of Scottish football and got off to a winning start in last weekend's 4-0 League Cup victory over Peterhead, which followed pre-season wins over the likes of Manchester City and Hearts.

And Hartley, who has signed the likes of Kevin Thomson, James McPake and Paul McGowan, believes his players are ready to show they have got what it takes to survive in their new surroundings.

He said: "It's nearly time for the real stuff and we're really looking forward to it. It's been a good pre-season and the boys have been excellent in terms of their attitude and preparation.

"I couldn't have asked for any more from them and I've been delighted with the way they've gone about their business.

"That should give them confidence but we know this is when we are judged, in the games that matter when the new season gets under way.

"Our fitness levels are good and if you've got that you've got half a chance. We made lots of signings as well with guys coming in who've played in the top league before. All in all, we are excited about the challenge which lies ahead and it's up to us to make all the hard work pay off."

Hartley hopes his new-look team gives their supporters something to shout about in their opening-day fixture, which could give an idea as to how they will fare over the course of the campaign.

He said: "You can feel the buzz. The fans are looking forward to this as much as anyone.

"That's what it's all about and you can understand the way they're feeling. So we want to do our best to get off to a positive start and hopefully get the three points.

"In saying that, it will be a tough game against Kilmarnock. You never really know how the opening game of the season is going to go but we will be giving everything on the day.

"We want to be strong at Dens Park this season so that is our one of our aims.

Dundee will be without forward Phil Roberts. The summer signing begins a four-match ban following his sending-off for Falkirk towards the end of last season.

Midfielder Kevin McBride is carrying a leg knock, full-back Gary Irvine hopes to recover in time from a groin injury to face the Ayrshire outfit, while goalkeeper Scott Bain is still recuperating following appendix surgery.

Alexei Eremenko is convinced he can have his best spell yet at Kilmarnock after signing for the Ayrshire club for a third time.

The Finland international will need to sparkle to improve on his first stint in the 2010-11 season, when he was nominated for the PFA Scotland player of the year award and helped Killie finish fifth in the league.

The former Lecce, Metalist Kharkiv, Rubin Kazan and HJK Helsinki playmaker rejoined the club in January but was clearly unfit at first and struggled to have a major impact on games, although he did enough to help the club stay in the Scottish Premiership.

Eremenko only signed two days before Killie's season starts at promoted Dundee but he believes he can quickly get up to speed and be as good as the first time.

The 31-year-old said: "I think that's possible, but I am always critical, and I'm hoping to do it even better.

"The first time I came here, you should not forget that I came here in August when the pitch was perfect. I had a six-month season behind me so I came straight from a season to another season.

"It was a totally different situation the second time. The first game I played in February, the pitch was awful, it was raining and it was cold and you couldn't pass the ball properly. Now it's different and I hope to have a good season."

Both Eremenko and the club had stated their desire to make the deal happen during the summer and the player has been preparing for his return with the club that launched his career, FF Jaro, whose head coach is Alexei Eremenko senior.

"There was a little bit of doubt in the summer," he said. "I wanted to come here earlier to have a pre-season but the situation turned out like this, that I just came a few days before the first game. There were a few small reasons but that's in the past now.

"I'm happy to be here and just can't wait for the season to start, and I can't wait until I get fully match-fit.

"I've been training for four weeks now with my father's team in Finland. I'm in pretty good shape but I need games. I had a pre-season, I was running myself. So I'm in better shape than when I came the last time."

Kilmarnock midfielder Jamie Hamill is suspended. Eremenko could feature while the likes of Lee Miller, Paul Cairney, Mark Connolly, Josh Magennis and Tope Obadeyi are in line for their debuts.

Killie added further to their squad on Friday with the signing of 20-year-old former Hibernian midfielder Euan Smith on a three-year deal. Smith has been training with Killie's under-20 squad for several weeks.

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