Who doesn’t love a league opener? It is the only real pre-match build up of the season that is generally full of blissful optimism, excitement and where the pre-season anxiety seems to disappear, even just for a few hours (well, in most cases). You also get to sit in your own seat again and if you are like me you love that first walk up the stairs of the season as you take your place for the first league match of the year. Not to mention the pitch, seeing the pitch on opening league day is one of those small footballing novelties.
Excitement this year is also taken to new levels as we all need to start making our way through a new catering menu that includes Nachos, Chilli Cheese Hotdogs AND a veritable Smorgasbord of Nicoll’s pies (and yes, I googled how to spell Smorgasbord). You can even order food via your phone and have it waiting for you! We really are living in the future, although this is probably only one or two steps before the inevitable Skynet takeover so we will just have to enjoy our Nachos whilst we can.
I don’t want to dwell too much on pre-season and the Betfred Cup but it has to be said that the last few weeks haven’t been of the rip roaring sort we all wanted. After the bitter disappointment of last year we all want to get up and running in the right way. Our pre-season football didn’t match the unbelievably nice kit that we have been blessed with this year and some anxiety had set in, understandably. One or two decent displays were surrounded by three or four very mediocre ones but yesterday was the first league game of the season and for one day we all got the chance to reset the system and start with a clean slate.
Last year the clean slate was well and truly destroyed as we were dismantled by Dunfermline. Surely this year would get off to a better start?
Spoiler alert – It did.
A negativity free zone is a rarity for me and for my fellow fans but we really do need to drink it in after a day like yesterday. I thoroughly enjoyed my afternoon in the Dundee sunshine and so did every other United supporter.
Over and above the football on display and the masterclass from Lawrence Shankland was the pre-match collection of Dundee United legends and then a fitting tribute on 65 minutes for a true Dundee hero – Alastair Brodie. It really was almost the perfect afternoon to start the season.
I often joke that positive posts are more of a challenge but not today, this is a post that I am going to enjoy writing and if we play with the same enthusiasm for the rest of the campaign then there will be plenty more like this. I think the word of the day yesterday for me was that, enthusiasm. It felt like a performance that was enjoyed by fans and players alike. It was the type of performance that we pay to see and it is the type of performance that connects the fans to the players. Football is there to stress us out and put us under pressure but when it is done right it is there for enjoyment. It is the reason we pick up a football in the first place and it is the reason we form a bond with our team.
Play like that and the fans will back the team all the way. Will there be bumps in the road? Of course. Was it perfect? No, there are always things to improve. But I would rather play with 90 minutes of enthusiasm and determination each week than watch two-touch between our defenders to sit and be bored to tears. Give us more of the same and we will win the vast majority of our games. Give us more of the same and we will be frontrunners for the title. Give us more of the same and we will ENJOY it.
The football yesterday was quick, it was with purpose and it was with the energy that seemed lacking in pre-season. Were the players just holding back until the ‘real’ stuff started? If this is the way it is going to be then that is fine. Bring it on.
Player Ratings –
1. – Benjamin Siegrist – Dealt with the physical pressure from the Caley set-pieces. Didn’t have much to do in open play. 6
2. Liam Smith – I really like him and he looks every bit the right-back we have been crying out for. 7
5. Mark Connolly – He would be in my team every week. Erratic at times but full of commitment and organises others. 7
6. Mark Reynolds – Quieter than Connolly in terms of pure aggression but we need him and he dealt well with everything. 6
17. Jamie Robson – First choice left-back? On this evidence he won’t be out the team for the first few matches at least. Played well. 7
7. Paul McMullan – Back to looking more like the player we had in small bursts last year. A power of work and did well against his marker. 7
12. Sam Stanton – Showed some lovely turns and drove forward well, a little guilty of not having the end product. 7
18. Calum Butcher – Did the ‘disruptor’ job well enough (although amazed he was not booked!). 6
10. Nicky Clark – Played in a very unfamiliar role but drifted into the middle well at times. 6
27. Louis Appere – What a revelation. Hassled, harried, carried the ball. Full of confidence and it shows. 9
24. Lawrence Shankland – The perfect afternoon. What a performance. 10
Man Of The Match –
If it was purely based on just open play then it would be a close call between the two strikers but for the goals and the finishing it of course has to be Lawrence Shankland. He is going to be such an important player for us this year I just pray that he has an injury free season and that we can continue to get the best out of him. It has to be the case he plays alongside another striker and we need to keep getting balls into the area for him to work his magic. If that strike partner is Louis Appere then I am happy with that for the first few games at least. He deserves more exposure on the showings during pre-season and yesterday especially.
Talking Tactics –
We adopted a fairly standard 442 for the entirety of the match and it worked perfectly against Caley’s own 442. I thought the opposition were very poor and we overwhelmed them at times. The energy off the ball was superb in small pockets of the game and this really disrupted Caley to the point that they once or twice seemed to just kick the ball out of play to try and get a break. The formation worked but it was more the application and having that extra body to chase defenders in the forward areas. We need to stick with it.
I think we mixed up our set-pieces very well with some shorter corners and one or two different variations that could have resulted in goals on any other day. Things like that make a real difference and they add to the fan experience too when you know that you might get an unexpected routine that could lead to a chance rather than just an aimless ball into the box.
The Positives –
Pretty much everything to be honest. I can’t really pick any faults on a day like yesterday and it would be totally unfair to talk about anything that detracts from a type of display that has been very rare for us in recent seasons. The best thing about the day was the fact it came on opening day, in-front of the owner, in-front of the United legends and in-front of such a good, vocal and positive crowd. It lifts everyone at the start of the campaign and it will hopefully kick-start a mini-run that could see us pick up some positive results in some very tough games.
Need To Work On –
Just more of the same to be honest. I mentioned earlier that if we play with such force and enthusiasm most weeks then we will win the majority of our games and even if we don’t pick up three points at least the fans will understand IF we have a performance that contains those positive elements we all want to see when we watch our team play.
Up Next –
A Friday night trip to Firhill and a TV fixture against Partick Thistle. They drew their opening match away to Alloa yesterday and it seems as though the performance was pretty poor if social media comments are anything to go by.
I am always a bit wary when you play a team who are at home for the first time, their fans will expect a performance and you would expect them to pick themselves up after a disappointing draw in Alloa.
If we play with the same application we have no reason to fear the trip and it would be nice if we had a new signing in the squad and possibly a bench appearance from Peter Pawlett if he continues to train this coming week.
I’ll be there and I can’t wait!
Enjoy your week!
Championship Results – Week 1
Dunfermline 2 – 2 Dundee (Friday)
Alloa 1 – 1 Partick Thistle
Arbroath 0 – 0 Queen of the South
Ayr United 4 – 2 Greenock Morton
Dundee United 4 – 1 Inverness
Partick Thistle v Dundee United (7:05pm Friday – BBC Scotland)
Dundee v Ayr United
Inverness v Arbroath
Greenock Morton v Alloa
Queen of the South v Dunfermline