PAUL DIXON has extra cause to keep a cool head in the hot-house atmosphere of today’s crunch clash with Leeds United at the John Smith’s Stadium.
The Scotland international defender, who turned 26 earlier this week, goes into the biggest derby of his career to date on four cautions.
He is eager to reach the cut-off date of December 31 without incurring a fifth, which would bring a one-match suspension during a crucial phase of the Championship campaign.
But the left-back admits he is confused over what constitutes a good tackle as opposed to a foul, particularly in the wake of Keith Southern’s sending off during the 1-1 draw at Charlton.
The midfielder was shown a straight red card for what many, Dixon and Charlton boss Chris Powell included, saw as a successful bid to get the ball ahead of Michael Morrison.
Those views weren’t shared by Surrey referee Lee Collins, and the Football Association rejected Town’s appeal in the wake of last Saturday’s controversy.
That means that after missing Tuesday’s disappointing 3-0 defeat at Middlesbrough, Southern will also be suspended against Leeds today and at home to Bolton next Saturday.
“To me, it was never a red card, more a good old-fashioned 50-50 challenge,” said Dixon, who played for both Dundee and Dundee United, but never against the other.
“I’m not sure what’s going on nowadays and it seems like the art of tackling has pretty much gone out of the game.
“I noticed when playing in the Europa League with Dundee United that opposition players went to ground if you as much as brushed against them.
“It’s not quite as bad as that over here, but what happened with Keith shows that the game is changing, and in my view, not for the better.
“Four or five years ago Keith’s tackle would have been totally fine and the game would have carried on. Fans like to see a good full-blooded challenge, that’s what it was.
“Keith didn’t go studs up and catch the boy knee high or anything like that. He went for a 50-50 ball and won it.”
Dixon picked up his fourth caution for a challenge on Bradley Pritchard in the same game and insisted: “I won the ball. The boy I fouled was himself booked for a challenge on Peter Clarke, which I don’t think was a yellow card either.
“Yet when they conceded the penalty which got us back into the game, Peter ended up with marks on his face from a high tackle (by Chris Solly), yet there was no booking.
“It’s all a bit confusing, and it’s tough to accept, because I was brought up to value a good, honest tackle, and for a defender, winning one if very satisfying.”
Dixon is due to make his 17th Town start and 21st appearance today, and says he’s been looking forward to the Leeds game ever since signing.
“I was three years at Dundee and four at United, yet we were never in the division as each other,” he explained.
“We had games against St Johnstone, who aren’t far down the road, and Aberdeen, which is termed the ‘New Firm’ game, but Town-Leeds is a proper derby.
“There’s a lot at stake, and not just local bragging rights, because both sides are looking to climb the table and stay on the heels of the leading pack.
“Middlesbrough the other night was a letdown, and we know we were off it, but we showed our character to get the draw at Charlton last week.
“This is a great chance to get back on course and show our supporters the team we really are.”
Dixon is delighted to have made a breakthrough into the Scotland side.
He played in the home World Cup qualifiers against Serbia and Macedonia and friendly in Luxembourg and added: “It’s a fantastic feeling to have represented my country.
“I said to my family before the Serbia match that if I only played one international, at least I could say I’d played for Scotland.
“To have done it three times is brilliant, and of course I want to win many more caps and help us reward the Scotland supporters, who are very loyal.”
Scotland’s dismal form in their first four qualifiers cost Craig Levein, who managed Dixon at Dundee United, his job as national boss.
Billy Stark was in caretaker charge for the 2-1 win in Luxembourg last month, and Dixon believes the credentials for Levein’s permanent successor must include real passion.
“I was sorry to see Craig Levein go. Managers get sacked in the flip of a coin really, and they should get more time,” claimed Dixon.
“Kenny Miller touched on it when he said all the players were behind Craig 100%. We believed things would have come right under him.
“But the decision has been made, and we have to get on with it. All I want is a man who is passionate for the country and the job.
“That Tartan Army provide fantastic support. There were more than 2,000 in Luxembourg. They just want their team to give their best and it would be great to give them some success.”
With more than 1,000 at both Charlton and Middlesbrough and a season’s best home attendance of 20,000 likely today, Dixon also wants to reward Town fans.
“They’ve been great to me and my family and we’ve settled in well and are happy with how things are going,” he said.
“I had a few games on the bench, but the team were doing well, so you ca have no real complaints.
“The break refreshed me made me more determined to do well when I got my chance, and I’ve been relatively happy with my recent form.
“Town pay my wages and if I don’t do well, neither my club nor international manager will pick me.
“I will give 100% every game. I’ll try to do well and try to help the team do well, and stay at the right end of the table.”