I’ve lost count of the number of times this blog has used the line “most important game of the season” but here we are again.
Tomorrow night is huge. Not only do we have a chance of going above Ayr (and temporarily joint top) but we also have an opportunity to right some wrongs given our performances against Ayr this season. We have been utterly dreadful against Ian McCall’s side and the aggregate score for this campaign currently reads 7-0 to Ayr.
Some suggest that this is the perfect time to play Ayr given their injury worries and recent results but this is Dundee United and when the pressure is on we quite often see a different side take to the pitch. The game is on TV and we’ve a tendency of faltering in these big games. Neilson has his work cut out in terms of turning over that psychological barrier. If we want to win this title, we need to show up.
In the press the manager has talked about these big fixtures as not being the ones that win you the league. He spoke about the ‘smaller’ games being the ones that trip teams up. I can see where he is coming from, however, this particular fixture feels like one where we have a bit of baggage that we need to get rid of. Ayr have humiliated us this season and now we have a chance to change that.
The Montrose game gave everyone a lift to continue the recent positivity at the club so it is really important that we keep that going and use it to our advantage tomorrow night. We have that confidence and our opponents are hurting from their worst run in a few years. They have just had their most humiliating defeat in decades, if not ever, against Junior side Auchinleck Talbot. We must take advantage of this.
Our squad is looking healthier and we finally have a bit of depth. We still need recruits but we have enough to get a result tomorrow in front of hopefully a big travelling support. Neilson has spoken time and time again about the positive impact of a good support so we must give the team that backing tomorrow night. With the game being on TV it will hit the away support a little but we can still hope for 600-700 travelling fans.
A win against Ayr would feel like more than just three points because of that psychological barrier that I mentioned earlier. If we get a good result it would provide huge momentum going into the last 14 games of the season. We also need to keep the pressure on Ross County who, in all honesty, will be the side we need to beat to the title. They face Alloa at home on Saturday so a positive result for us would shift the pressure back to them.
Possible Starting Lineup vs Ayr United –
Others – Neilson’s biggest headache will be the midfield. We have Fraser Fyvie back but he has been in poor form. Morgaro Gomis looked the part last Saturday and Neilson has been full of praise for him. Might we see a slight change in plan for tomorrow? We could quite easily have Stanton, Smith and Nesbitt as the three behind Safranko which may mean Gomis and Fyvie both playing. Other considerations will be for people like Nicky Clark and possibly Ian Harkes but the chat from Neilson suggests that the young American will be eased into the team.
Similar to when I suggested this last week I personally would like to see Clark, Nesbitt and Smith behind Safranko and for them to all interchange during the game. I see these four as being the best attacking options we have.
Right-back is all dependant on the fitness of Murdoch. He will get the nod if fit.
Key Player(s) – A strong midfield will be vital tomorrow. With a selection headache it is crucial that Neilson makes the right call in terms of personnel but also tactically. The combination of Gomis, Stanton and Fyvie will be where the game is won or lost. The last time the teams faced each other our central midfield was non-existent and it left the back four badly exposed.
View from the Oppostion – A tough, tough few weeks for Ayr United. They have been on a very poor run of form and currently have a long injury list to key players like Shankland, Forrest and Kerr. It has been a torrid time for Ian McCall and it has only been made worse by their humiliation in the Scottish Cup.
Ayr are still in a fantastic position and the club has made huge strides in the last 18 months, but this is a very sticky spell for them and in an unforgiving league. They haven’t won in five league games (since they demolished United) so confidence will be low going into tomorrow. It also looks like their injury crisis will not be solved in time for the game and they have two or three players who are being eyed up by other clubs ahead of pre-contracts or transfer bids.
One thing they do have over United is that knowledge of being able to win and win comfortably. They will know the weaknesses we have and they will see this fixture as the perfect opportunity to get one over on us and get things back on track.
CURRENT FORM (LAST FOUR LEAGUE GAMES) –
United – 2-1 Win vs Falkirk (H), 2-1 Loss vs Alloa (A), 1-1 Draw vs Partick (H), 1-0 Win vs Dunfermline (H)
Ayr – 0-0 Draw vs Dunfermline (A), 1-1 Draw vs Queen of the South (A), 1-0 Loss vs Falkirk (H), 1-0 Loss vs Inverness (A)
CURRENT CHAMPIONSHIP TABLE –