After drying off post-Tynecastle I was just about ready to get on the road again, this time to Ochilview for United v Stenhousemuir in the next Betfred fixture. The last time I visited the ground it was to see United play East Stirling, who were using the stadium at the time, in the Scottish Cup. Although it was different opposition that day, I would gladly have taken another 4-0 win to mirror the result in 2009.
Was it to be? Well this is United 2019 so of course it was never going to be that straight forward…
Last Friday’s draw away at Tynecastle has been heavily debated and for me it was good to move on from that and I looked forward to last night so that we could maybe see a better reflection of what the United staff and players had been working on during pre-season.
The first thing that has been noticeable during our friendlies and again last night is the willingness that Neilson now has to use a more conventional 442 at times rather than the much maligned 4231. Last night he allowed Louis Appere to start alongside Shankland and give the wide players a chance to drive forward as traditional wingers. Or, that was the plan at least.
It is safe to say that the first half last night was pretty poor, in fact, nothing of note happened at all. It was Stenhousemuir who had the better chances in the opening spell and for United it was a pedestrian and laboured display, one that is all too familiar to us in recent seasons. We just couldn’t get the ball moving quickly enough and the central midfielders couldn’t carry the ball to allow for the wide players or strikers to fashion any real chances. Shankland did have a goal disallowed and there were one or two little moments but it was very flat opening 45.
After the break things picked up and we started to move the ball much quicker. There seemed to be a willingness to use the ball positively, with McMullan and Chalmers given more time to create from the wider areas. What we do still miss is a genuine central force and someone who can pick the ball up deep in the midfield before driving forward. We did dominate most of the second half and probably could have scored more goals but we never really had prolonged spells of constant pressure.
As has been a hallmark of United in recent campaigns, our inability to convert cost us when Adam King fell over the ball allowing Stenhousemuir to fashion a chance that resulted in a corner we then conceded from. It all felt very familiar.
It is still not a time to over analyse too much and we now have two home games to build up more momentum but there is still room for improvement. Part of me wants to just fast forward to the opening game of the league season to get things going but in the meantime I would like to see a bit more use of the squad over the next two games. I think something that needs to be worked on is the use of our fullbacks. We missed Liam Smith last night and Jamie Robson again looked short on confidence. Hopefully Sporle will get a chance to shine on Friday. Two attacking fullbacks and a creative midfielder would open up this system.
Although we are missing maybe one or two more additions we are close to having the tools to do the job, we just need to find the right mix and utilise them properly.
Someone put it very well on Twitter the other day when talking about the Hearts game and it probably sums up my feelings about last night – It is okay to be happy about the result but unhappy about the performance.
Player Ratings –
1.Benji Siegrist – 6 – Had little to do but dealt with everything pretty well.
44. Paul Watson – 6 – Still not a natural fullback but did well defensively and scored the important opener.
5. Mark Connolly – 6 – One or two typical lapses but overall he was fairly comfortable and could have scored a cracking volley if not for the bar.
6. Mark Reynolds – 5 – Didn’t look his usual self to me, quiet and hesitant at times.
17. Jamie Robson – 4 – Beaten too easily and lacked any confidence to drive forward.
7. Paul McMullan – 6 – Only got going on a few occasions but caused problems when he did get the ball into his feet.
23. Ian Harkes – 5 – Personally I thought he was very lax in possession and very quiet. He needs to get on the ball more often.
18. Callum Butcher – 6 – A great hit for the goal but blew hot and cold.
20. Logan Chalmers – 6 – Some fantastic touches and impressive deliveries into the box.
24. Lawrence Shankland – 7 – Always showing for the ball and did a lot of tracking back to gain possession.
27. Louis Appere – 6 – Lots of running the channels and caused problems for the defence.
11. Cammy Smth – Given a chance to play centrally but never really got going.
12. Sam Stanton – Started very brightly when he first came on but faded in the later stages.
25. Adam King – Didn’t have a great time of it and an unfortunate slip on the ball led to the Stenny goal.
Man of the Match
As you can see from above it was a night of 5s and 6’s. The performance level that wasn’t necessarily ‘bad’ it was just a bit ‘meh’ and the players seemed to play within themselves. I would probably go for Lawrence Shankland who, despite not finding the back of the net, always looked our greatest threat going forward.
I enjoyed watching Shankland and I think he looks like a natural striker who enjoys getting involved on the ball. It was also nice to see both Chalmers and Appere show up well.
In any system you need your fullbacks to overlap and get involved. Neither Watson (not suited) or Robson (not confident enough) did that. Utilising both flanks is essential and hopefully something we will see more of.
Cowdenbeath and the first Tannadice fixture of the new season. It is a big day for two reasons –
- We all get to swan about in the new United kit as it goes on sale that morning.
- We all get to spill copious amounts of grease and pie debris down our new tops as we gorge on Nicoll’s pies for the first time since their return.