Well here we go…
After a dismal Betfred Cup the time for the “real business” is now. All of the talk stops and it is up to the players and staff at Dundee United to do what is needed, win the Scottish Championship. Saturday’s first fixture will be the opening credits to a 36 game league season that promises to be full of stresses and strains but if Fraser Fyvie lifts the Championship trophy next May then I won’t care if we have kicked, scratched and clawed our way to a title, it will all have been worth it. It has been a busy, confusing and frustrating summer but we are now at the start of the league campaign that could define Dundee United both as club and as a business.
Yesterday chairman Mike Martin gave an interview to ArabZone, outlining the work that had been done since May and he attempted to clarify the situation in the boardroom. He was full of positive messages and he gave the impression of someone quietly confident of potential success. Many, many things have changed both in the playing staff and in the day-to-day running of the club but the only thing fans will care about every Saturday is the result on the park. To that end it is safe to say that a significant chunk of the United support are of the opinion that Csaba Laszlo is not the man to lead us back to the Premiership. It looks like his job is safe (for now) and the board have given him free reign over the summer. They have been public with their backing and with 12 new players (plus more to come) the board and the manager believe that we have a stronger squad and one that is equipped to challenge for the league.
Winning the league will be incredibly tough. As I highlighted in my season previews this week (here and here) there are at least 6 teams in the division with genuine title-winning ambitions. There is no room for error and no room for dips in form, mounting injury lists or, worryingly for us, a potential turmoil that results in mid-season managerial changes.
The campaign begins in the most difficult of circumstances with the visit of a team who are bang in form after a fantastic pre-season in comparison to United. In Dunfermline we are also facing a team who are in a similar position to ourselves when looking at ambitions for this season. They are also going to be keen to break a longstanding results record that we have over them. It is all set for either being a fantastic kick-starter to our season or a potential first game crisis.
What are my hopes for Saturday? As always I want to see a good crowd, a vocal support and a set of fans who give the team a fair chance in the first game of the season. Most of the United support will not have seen the majority of players on show so it is important that regardless of our inner anger or turmoil that we give the players a fair crack at trying to impress us (this is subject to change half a dozen games or so into the season!)
The ideal scenario would be a solid, confidence boosting performance, with a win being a great bonus. We face Queen of the South away in our second game before a mini-break and the visit of Partick Thistle. If we can get out of these opening three games with at least six points then it would give us a solid foundation to build on. The calculations are that 18 points per quarter (so in this case 9 games) will win you the league. It will be a tough, tough campaign but the strength of the league might mean that teams constantly steal points from one another and it may make it a wide-open race to the top.
Team News – Motherwell have a new section on their website (here) that updates fans on injuries and suspensions. It would be great if United had something similar. From what I can gather the definite injury list is – Billy King, Fraser Fyvie, Deniz Mehmet and Lewis Toshney. The ‘doubts’ are Craig Curran and Stewart Murdoch. The mystery of what is or isn’t happening with James Keatings continues.
Possible Starting Lineup vs Dunfermline – Based on pre-match comments and the lineup against Elgin I think we might be looking at –
GK –Benjamin Siegrist(although Laszlo has said he is unsure about who is No.1)
RB – Sam Wardrop
CB – Frederic Frans
CB – William Edjenguele/Stewart Murdoch
LB – Jamie Robson (assuming that Booth is still not 100%)
CDM – Adam Barton
CDM – Christoph Rabitsch
RM –Fraser Aird
CAM – Sam Stanton
LM – Yannick Loemba
ST – Nicky Clark
Others – Hopefully James Keatings is at least in the squad. The left-back position should be Callum Booth’s but he has been struggling with injury. It would be great to have Craig Curran, Declan Glass and Paul McMullan as impact subs if needed. You would think that Laszlo (given his loyalty to him) would prefer Stewart Murdoch in the defence over ‘Edge’ but again it depends on fitness.
Key Player(s) –New signing Yannick Loemba excited the fans last week against Elgin but I wouldn’t expect him to play 90 minutes (he could become a key man during the campaign though). Saturday will depend on players like Frederic Frans and Adam Barton showing their quality. We do have good players at the club, they just need to show it from the start.
View From The Opposition – Dunfermline fans are approaching this season with a great deal of confidence and rightly so. Their results in the Betfred Cup have been impressive and the team are playing well. They finished top of their Betfred group and have scored plenty of goals in these opening fixtures. After a few years of being nearly men it might be that this is the season things change. It will probably be Allan Johnstone’s last throw of the dice but he has assembled a decent looking team (even if they do still lack a great deal of depth). It looks like Dunfermline will bring a great travelling support to Tannadice and they will fancy their chances in breaking the record we have over the Pars.
Current Form (Last Four Games) –
United –1-1 Draw vs Arbroath (H) – United lost on penalties, 1-0 Defeat vs Ross County (A), 1-1 Draw vs Alloa (H) – United lost on penalties, 4-0 Win vs Elgin (A).
Dunfermline – 3-0 Win vs Peterhead (H), 1-0 Win vs Dundee (A), 7-1 Win vs Brechin (A), 3-1 Win vs Stirling Albion (H).
The Weekend’s Full Championship Fixture Card –