Where to begin?
I contemplated not doing a match review for last night. During the long journey home from Somerset I was of the opinion that I really should spend my time doing better things given that I had committed 9 hours of my day on United and received nothing in return. Not that I went to the game last night assuming we would win, but when your team can’t control a football or show a bit of desire in such an important match you begin to wonder what the point actually is.
Football fans wait all week for their games and many, well most, get really excited rain or shine about seeing the team run on to that park wearing a shirt that you could only dream of putting on. The absolute minimum fans expect is a desire and commitment, similar to what they themselves have shown. When we don’t get it, we take it personally and it sticks with us.
The 600 or so brave, and incredibly supportive, fans who stood on the terraces last night were badly short changed and the atmosphere leaving the ground last night was dismal. YET AGAIN we have been let down in an important match. If last night finished 1-0 to Ayr but we had fought and battled for 90 minutes then we would still be disappointed but in a different way. This is a much deeper disappointment and anger.
For anyone who regularly reads my posts you will know that I spend most of my time trying to be reasonable and balanced. Allow me then, to indulge myself during this post as I go to town on an embarrassing display that, for me, was possibly worse than the 5-0 result at Tannadice in terms of performance levels.
Losing 1-0 means that people might look at the score and assume that this was a close match with little between the teams. They would be wrong. Ayr were not even close to the standard they set at Tannadice but they still managed to win so comfortably that a repeat of the 5-0 would not have totally flattered them at times last night. We were atrocious. I cannot remember one occasion where we managed to control the ball and string more than three passes together. The weather was poor but that is a terrible excuse to use given that Ayr managed to cope perfectly well in the conditions. They used the wind and rain as a positive and we crumbled.
Tactically we were all over the shop. A midfield three behind Safranko that served no purpose and a sitting two that put in the most inept performances I have seen in a long, long time. Both Fyvie and Gomis couldn’t control the ball, couldn’t pass and couldn’t tackle. The three ahead of them were so detached from our lone striker that Safranko, who wasn’t great himself, ended up having to do the work of four people as he chased the channels and dropped deep to win headers. He left the pitch angry and frustrated and I had great sympathy for him. Playing one upfront has not worked for years now and yet we still seem to be intent on sticking with that shape.
Defensively we are so, so hesitant and weak. The young fullback Seaman showed good energy and tried to get forward so he is immune from this given he probably only met his team mates that morning. The goalkeeper had little to be blamed for apart from a few wayward kicks from goal. As for Booth, Bouhenna and Frans they sum up exactly what we all hate about the teams we’ve seen over the past few seasons. Physically strong and tall, they seem to hide when needing to do the dirty work. They have no presence and they don’t strike fear into opponents like defenders should. They approach headers and tackles with no ferocity or commitment and they are very hesitant using the ball. There is no organisation or leadership. It is at times like this I find myself dreaming of someone like Darren Dods or Lee Wilkie or anyone, anyone who has some genuine presence about them.
Neilson also has to shoulder the blame for last night. Tactically he got it all wrong and he didn’t make the right changes when needed. On a night where the wind was with us in the second half and we were desperate for an equaliser he takes of our only striker with a physical presence? Safranko was not great last night but as time went on we needed to just start hitting diagonals and crosses into the box so why take him off? We chose to shoot with the wind in the second half so it was a strange set of decisions from the manager. Post-match he claimed the “effort” was there but I would argue that he is wrong with that assessment. Running around is okay but there was no conviction in the tackle, no conviction with pressing and no real desire to get involved in the physical battle that Ayr relished. We yet again allowed the Ayr fullbacks and wide players to have a free reign down our flanks and that in itself is criminal given how much they used that to their advantage in a first-half that could have yielded two or three more goals for them.
The overriding feeling from last night is “yet again”. Yet again we travel in numbers, we get excited, we have optimism and the team then let us down. It has happened on too many occasions this season but it also happened under Laszlo and McKinnon. It stems from a lack of genuine fight and desire to go and win these high pressure games that could win us a title. Neilson mentioned the other day that games like last night don’t necessarily win you the league, but the reality is they definitely lose it for you if you perform like we did.
So, do we now lose hope? No, because that’s not what football fans do. We are also still very much in the race for this league despite an astonishing number of slip ups. Some of you reading this might think that this long and negative post is a massive over-reaction and yes this league is still there but the current weakness in the United squad means that very few of us have genuine belief in what might unfold over the remaining 14 games. We still have to play Inverness away, Ross County at home (and away) and Ayr again, for the fourth time (it is currently 8-0 Ayr on aggregate). What happens then? The fans yet again will back the team but we will all have that lingering doubt about the team’s mental capacity for these fixtures.
Look back at Hibs, St.Mirren and Livingston. What did they possess that we don’t? Hibs obviously had bigger resources with a higher calibre of squad and St.Mirren had one or two very, very good players at this level. What they all did have, and what won them promotion, was a genuine belief and toughness about them. They had the drive and commitment to go into every game with a will to win that we sadly lack when we need it most. The Scottish Championship is about ethos and personality over genuine ability and it is here we get caught out.
Personally I have faith in the new club structure and I have faith in Robbie Neilson but we badly need a sea change in attitude and approach. It sounds like I am a broken record but it is true. This division will be one by the most physical, committed and aggressive team who has the psychological toughness to push them over the line in the remaining 14 games.
I’ll be there next Saturday and I’ll get the midweek excitement that I always do. We’ll all be there next week, the week after and the week after. We keep going and going but the team need to reciprocate. We are stuck in this division and need to battle for our way out of it.
The fans are up for the fight, the team needs to be.
Player Ratings – N/A
Man of the Match – N/A