Well, if you think that I got up at 6am this morning to watch a recording of last night’s fantastic win then you’d be absolutely right.
This blog has been a bit quiet recently and truth be told this was partly down to playoff nerves. I felt that posts talking up our chances and discussing tactical approaches would somehow jinx things and add to my own pre-match anxiety! Thankfully last night put any fears to bed and as we move on to the playoff final I see no reason to be worried or nervous. Yes we have two of the biggest games in the club’s recent history upon us but regardless of who we play on Thursday and Sunday we can do this.
For most of us last night probably provided one of the most satisfying evenings of football at Tannadice in a long, long time and it was the type of night that reminded me why I fell in love with this football club in the first place. There is no better sight than a packed Tannadice and there is no better feeling than having us all singing and cheering in unison for 90 minutes. A packed Shed, the flags, the colour and the noise. Everyone singing as they make their way down the East Stand ramp is one of my favourite things in football and when it happens, like it did last night, it always brings a huge smile to my face. Although my 18-month old son is too young to go to games, it is nights like last night that I hope he grows up with.
To also see hundreds of fans standing in the rain to get their tickets for Thursday shows us what this means to everyone. We had 8500 there last night and if we can break the 9000 mark for Thursday it would be a great achievement and it would give the players the backing they deserve.
This blog often tries to tactically analyse games and pick apart players performances but I won’t be doing much of that today and I won’t be doing much of that for the final either. The time has gone for moans, groans and tactical analysis. This isn’t a period for debating about set-pieces, sitting midfielders or build-up play. This is all about two more matches and two more results, regardless of how we get them. It is also about belief and togetherness, something that has returned to United in recent months. If we can take anything from yesterday and this week it is that the club has changed, and changed for the better, regardless of what happens in the next 8 days.
No formal ratings for players after such a big night for the club, it would be unfair to single anyone out for any criticism over the last two legs. What I will do is highlight four who I feel have made a huge difference over the 180 minutes against Caley.
Benji Siegrist – Hands up if you have criticised Benji since last August? That’ll be everyone then? The giant goalkeeper has had a difficult campaign but when it has mattered most he’s been at his best. He looked confident and assured up north earlier in the week but last night he was simply faultless. He kept us in the game with some wonderful saves and he showed great maturity late on by collecting some tough high balls and slowing play down. Well done Benji!
Paul McMullan – The wee winger had a torrid start to the season under a manager who clearly had no faith in him. Since Neilson’s arrival he has been talked up in the media and been given plenty of game time. Slowly he has returned to top form and in recent games he has been on fire. A real difference maker over the last two games he could be the one to unlock the door to the Premiership.
Mark Reynolds – A proper, no-nonsense leader who is very sound positionally and always keeps it simple. He has been a colossus in these playoff games and is the reason why we all feel a little but more confident about the defence and the tactical setup at set-pieces.
Rachid Bouhenna – The incredibly good looking Algerian didn’t feature on Tuesday night but he was my man of the match yesterday. He absolutely strolled it in the middle of the park and he showed huge composure on the ball under pressure. He is a proper footballer and one who could be the surprise package in terms of being a key figure against the Premiership side.
Over the last two games we have displayed a wide range of playing styles and despite a very nervy and defensive opening 45 minutes in the first leg we have shown our abilities in being able to play quite expansive and attacking football when needed. I think Neilson is someone who approaches big games with caution so it will be interesting to see what he does on Thursday but I would encourage him to try and replicate the second 45 from last night with us attacking as often as possible to put the pressure on the Premiership side.
I actually think that playing the first match at home might suit us. With the momentum amongst the support and the confidence from the players you would think that maybe playing at home might give us an edge.
St.Mirren or Hamilton?
In January I would have answered this question with St.Mirren but honestly I would much rather play Hamilton right now. Having watched the St.Mirren v Hamilton match last week it feels as though the Paisley men have a greater attacking threat than Hamilton but more importantly they are a team and a club who seems to have galvanised in recent weeks and they have a very vocal and supportive fanbase behind them. Psychologically I would rather face a team on a downer and with fewer fans (plus we owe Hamilton after the last time…)
Bits and Bobs (some random thoughts from yesterday and the build-up)
- The United media team are working really hard at the moment and deserve credit for putting together lots of packages, social media content and interviews to help build interest.
- The people at the shop and the staff who deal with ticketing deserve an award for their hard work over this busy period. They are a credit to the club and without them the place would be chaos!
- John Robertson. I must admit that in general I like Robertson and I think despite his meltdown on Tuesday and his anger last night I thought that his post-match handshaking and good luck messages to the players, staff and supporters of United was a sign of someone who is clearly a good guy and someone who loves the game.
So, what now? Well we have shown that we can deal with pressure fixtures and we have shown that the squad has the quality to win big games. The fans have also shown that they are still here, still loud and still proud of this great club. There is a sense of unity that we have not had in recent years and we all seem to be pulling in the same direction. We have no divine right to be in the top-flight, nobody does, but it feels like we are in a better place and that we have a chance of getting over that line.
One more push is what we need. One more big push from everyone connected to Dundee United Football Club.
Next Thursday if you have a top, put it on. If you have a flag, bring it. If you have a scarf, wear it.
Let’s do this!