I’m not a religious person but when it comes to football then maybe I can be convinced that there is some kind of higher power given that the potential people in charge have certainly found it in their hearts to give us a bit of a helping hand over the last 10 days. We’ve taken care of our own business and continued with our impressive run of form but Ayr United have now dropped four points in two games AND the Highland duo of County and Caley have also suffered. As things stand we are only two wins away from being at most, one point off top spot. That would be a massive achievement when you consider our early season form.
One brilliant aspect from the victory up in Dingwall was the manner in which we won. It has been a recurring theme amongst recent United teams that when sides put us under huge physical pressure that we simply crumble. Not last Saturday. This was a performance full of real grit and determination, something that we, the fans, lap up and something that can give us all hope for the season ahead. It was a performance that produced glorious tears and snotters from the County management team which I am delighted with. If we are winning in a manner that rattles the opponents then bring it on. You could also see by the reaction from the supporters at the end of the match just how much it meant to the players and the fans in the stand.
Generally speaking we’ve faced two types of opponents in this league so far. One is the team who sits back and allows us to dominate possession whilst trying to stifle us. The other uses gung-ho, high intensity pressure football. It is this style that has seen teams win this division over the last few seasons. Thankfully we look like we are beginning to be able to cope with both of these scenarios and that we ourselves can dish out both brands of football when needed.
Also, and for the fifth week in a row, it is time to talk about the energy the fans provide. We yet again showed just how big a club we are last weekend with another fantastic set of supporters travelling up north. It is a long, long journey to Dingwall but when United are on form then the numbers will travel. As away crowds go it was not only the number but the noise they created and passion they had. It feels like we have hit a genuine tipping point and that the supporters are now fully onboard with Neilson and his players. The next big challenge is to transfer this energy from away games back to Tannadice. The atmosphere has slowly been improving at home, so with two huge games on the horizon it would be fantastic if we could really lift the noise levels to help the players.
The league is now beginning to open up quite significantly and what we are also now seeing is a slight improvement in teams like Falkirk, making things much more competitive but that can work in our favour. With County and Ayr both slipping up in recent weeks we are now on the verge of being able to seize a huge opportunity to put us right back in the picture and possibly all the way to the summit over the next few fixtures. That would then give us the momentum we need going into the Christmas period and put us in a great position for attracting one or two quality additions to the squad in January. Being on top and being in form makes United an attractive club for players wanting to showcase their talents in the remaining few months of the season.
Before we move on to the possible lineup for Tuesday it is also worth noting that Neilson has made an effort to talk about consistency this week and the importance of having a core group who play every match. He highlighted the fact that successful teams only use a small pool of players and that in recent years we have very much lost our way. My post published yesterday looked at the 2015/16 squad (here) and featured THIRTY players and those were only the ones who left the club (we actually used about FORTY players that season). It is amazing the number of varieties of team we have used in recent years and I am fully supportive of Neilson’s much more tapered down approach. Hopefully going forward (and injuries apart) we can use a settled group. It already feels like Neilson has 12-13 players he relies on (with maybe one or two January additions to look forward to). He has faith that this squad can win the league and we are now beginning to beleive him.
Possible Starting Lineup vs Alloa Athletic –
GK – Benji Siegrist
RB – Stewart Murdoch
CB – William Edjenguele
CB – Rachid Bouhenna
LB – Callum Booth
CM – Fraser Fyvie
CM – Sam Stanton
RM – Fraser Aird
CAM – Paul McMullan
LM – Billy King
ST – Pavol Safranko
Others – The only area of the team where Neilson has a bit of a headache will be in defence. It is unusual for a United fan to be saying this but I actually feel comfortable with whatever combination we go for. Given the sense of dread our defence has given us we are now in an unusual position where we might feel a little sorry for anyone who misses out. The form of our defence has been excellent and it looks like everyone is back to fitness so for Frans, Booth, Murdoch, Watson and Edge there is a fight to find a spot in the team (I’m assuming Rachid Bouhenna is first choice and Robson is still backup).
One other small issue might be the fitness of Fyvie but it looks like he should be available for selection. With the Ayr game giving the squad a 10 day break and additional recovery time it might be worth giving Fyvie the benefit of the doubt. If he does miss out then we may see Murdoch used in midfield or, more likely, for Christoph Rabitsch to come in.
Key Player(s) – A change of tack with this one as I actually move from the players to the fans. I think we could hold the key on Tuesday night given the potential for a difficult and frustrating night under the lights. Hopefully the Scotland match doesn’t drag too many fans away and we can still get a decent (5000 plus crowd).
Let’s make some noise, be patient and back the team for the full 90.
View From The Opposition – Alloa are probably achieving what they would have hoped for. They are a very well organised and strong side that have made games very difficult for everyone else in the league. They have also managed one or two very impressive results, especially in their last league outing as they managed to beat Greenock Morton 2-0 away from home.
Manager Jim Goodwin has his side playing exactly how he wants and they have the continuity of a small but tight squad that show some great quality when needed. Their aim is survival and they are very much in the mix when it comes to escaping the drop. For them the game against us won’t define their season but that is where the danger is, they have very little to lose. It might be that their extra-time and penalties Irn-Bru Cup defeat to Edinburgh City has taken a bit out of the squad but they will be a difficult opposition and we will have to be at our best.
Watch out for Dario Zanatta the young Canadian on-loan from Hearts. The Number 19 has been really impressive for Alloa this season and is a key outlet for them going forward.
Current Form (Last Four League Games) –
United – 1-1 Draw vs Inverness (H), 2-0 Win vs Dunfermline (A), 2-0 Win vs Queen of the South (H), 1-0 Win vs Ross County (A)
Alloa Athletic – 0-0 Draw vs Inverness (H), 3-0 Loss vs Ayr United (A), 1-0 Loss vs Dunfermline (H), 2-0 Win vs Morton (A)
Current Championship Table –