I haven’t enjoyed the last fortnight. Having a league break so early in the campaign isn’t great for supporters who are desperate for the season to build up some momentum. It also forces me to do ‘normal’ things at the weekend (although that is a lie, I went to Station Park last Saturday).
The break feels like a bit of a drag when you have seen your side pick up maximum points in the opening two fixtures. It is also made worse by the inevitable sub-plot to this season, the Dundee Derby. Having idle thumbs can see social media turn into an ‘interesting’ battleground.
With next Friday now hurtling towards us the last week or so has seen the anxiety and anticipations levels increase which can be great to build excitement but it also ushers in a level of pettiness that can be a bit tiresome. A fixture so intensely emotional always digs out oddities in terms of “things to slag your rivals about” with the highlight of this week being the few hundred tickets that United have handed out to local schools and charities. Apparently this negates the claim by the club that we have ‘sold-out’ and it also somehow lessens the size of our support. Some have attempted to take this fantastic gesture and bizarrely turn it into a negative.
Before I move on to speak about yesterday’s Dunfermline match, let’s get this straight – The young people of Dundee are the future of football in our city. It is a wonderful thing that both clubs allow kids access to Dens and Tannadice on match days but also as part of the amazing community work carried out by both Dundee and Dundee United. We need our kids to support our local teams and we need them to fall in love with football in our community and in our local area without the lure of TV football. I work with young people and I know many who will be visiting Tannadice next Friday to witness their first ever Dundee Derby. Do we all remember our first experience of this fixture? I know I certainly do and I cannot wait for a new batch of local youngsters to sample that same atmosphere and hopefully walk away from the game with an experience that may well stay with them for the rest of their lives.
Anyone trying to turn a positive like this into a negative really needs to get a grip on things and see it for what it is. I hope both United and Dundee continue to support our young people and they should be applauded for the work that they do.
Dunfermline is a special away trip. I mentioned during the Betfred games that Tynecastle is my favourite ground to visit for atmosphere but there is something I always love about a trip to East End Park (and it is more than just the bridies). It is the Championship equivalent of St.Johnstone away because it always feels like we take a great backing but that people actually also view it as a proper day out rather than just appearing at the ground.
Yesterday we arrived in Dunfermline for about 12:45 and as we visited the Elizabethan pub it all felt a bit like a cup final day. The place was absolutely rammed, the weather was great and the place was full of tangerine tops both inside and out. It was absolutely marvellous.
The game itself? Well one worry with having a break like we did was the slight concern over match sharpness. Dunfermline had a cup game against Celtic during the two week stoppage and by all accounts played incredibly well at Parkhead, almost taking Neil Lennon’s team to penalties. They have team full of young talent and so far in the league they have shown great attacking threat and a real energy to their football.
Surprising then, that from minute one, the home side looked miles off the pace and totally bereft of confidence. Their formation was unbelievably wide and it left huge gaps all over the park. It was an invite for us to play with pace and purpose, which we thankfully accepted.
The first 45 minutes was as dominant a performance as you will see this season, but we maybe didn’t create too many clear and obvious chances. We do however have Lawrence Shankland who seems to be able to fashion goals out of thin air. His conversion rate is pretty astonishing and I still find myself at times trying to snap out of whatever dream we are all experiencing as we witness a striker with an unbelievable knack of being able to find the net. Some strikers seem to have that slice of poachers luck on their side and Shankland is in the same mould as a Billy Dodds-esque player who seems to take most opportunities and somehow get the ball beyond the goalkeeper and into the net. All we need now is to hold a fans conference to decide once and for all what song to sing…
We were very, very comfortable all over the park in the first-half. We controlled the ball with great presence and at a level that was way above anything Dunfermline had.
In football there are a few absolute certainties and one always seems to be that if you have a comfortable and dominant first-half, the second 45 is always going to be a tad flat in comparison. Dunfermline had to change things and they did alter their shape a little but it didn’t really result in any spells of constant pressure on our backline, apart from maybe a ten or so minute flurry around the 70 minute mark.
Although we didn’t quite hit the heights of the early stages in the second half we should have scored at least two more goals with Pawlett’s incredible miss and Shankland’s saved penalty (which I felt at the time was a fairly soft award). The win never really felt in doubt and to end our opening three fixtures on maximum points is fantastic. It also sets up the Dundee game in a really positive way, but more on that later.
So far this season we have seen a free flowing attacking performance against Inverness, a scrappy but determined comeback against Partick and a controlled, measured display away to Dunfermline. We have shown that we can mix things up and we can turn things around. It is early days but we are displaying some strong qualities as we chase that elusive league title.
One other thing that we now have is one or two little variables that haven’t really been on our side in previous seasons. It is very early on but we are in a position of strength when it comes to having a small cushion (only three points but enough to have that buffer). What we also have, and we might need, is a positive and strong goal difference. We have always been playing catch-up in both our points tally and our goal difference. For once it is nice to have a position of strength early on.
Player Ratings –
1. – Benjamin Siegrist – Very little to do for 90% of the game but when called upon he did very well again. Showing himself to be a reliable goalkeeper this season. 6
2. Liam Smith – Once again a very assured and a very strong performance from someone I am convinced will be our most consistent player this year. 7
18. Calum Butcher – Quickly becoming a vital player and someone who Neilson clearly relies upon. Dominant and composed throughout. 8
6. Mark Reynolds – Cruised through the 90 minutes with a performance that reflects his “experienced defender” role. 7
17. Jamie Robson – Like a new player so far this season. Confident, aggressive and strong on the ball. 7
7. Paul McMullan – I thought he was fantastic yesterday. Another assist but it was his defensive work and overall effort that stood out. 8
12. Sam Stanton – A brilliant 45 minutes alongside Harkes in the middle. Faded a little in the second 45 but he is another who has found new life this season. 7
23. Ian Harkes – A very similar game to Stanton. He has great ability and enjoyed the space afforded to him yesterday. 7
10. Nicky Clark – Still feels like a square peg in a round hole but he is experienced enough to perform in the position he has been asked to play. Really unlucky not to score a great team goal. 6
27. Louis Appere – Maybe still a tad inexperienced with one or two decisions but that is to be expected. He still had a great game and occupied defenders all day long. Has some lovely technique when on the ball. 7
24. Lawrence Shankland – I am going to run out things to say about Shankland! He seemed to hobble a bit during a spell in the second half so hopefully nothing comes from that. 8
8. Peter Pawlett – More time for Pawlett as he gets up to speed. Should have scored and maybe could have been a bit more dominant on the ball.
9. Osman Sow – A token few minutes for Sow as he returns to fitness.
Man Of The Match –
An obvious one would be Shankland but I actually felt that as an overall 90 minutes there were players like McMullan and maybe Butcher who contributed more in open play.
I’m going to be an absolute sap though and give it not to a player but to all the fans who made the trip yesterday. A wonderful backing, on a wonderful day is something that always reminds you just why you love football so much and just why you love your team so much. It also puts everyone on top form ahead of Friday night. So, for the 2550 United fans who travelled to Fife, I salute you all!
Talking Tactics –
Consistency is king in football and that can come in both form but also in team selections and tactics. Yet again we could call upon a very settled group and we now look like we are firmly fixed with an effective 442 and a system that can control games once we get hold of the play.
We again tried to mix things up from set-pieces (although the deep corner routine was maybe a bit overused). It is important we keep teams guessing and we use every available opportunity to gain advantage over our opponents.
The Positives –
The controlled nature of the first-half was excellent and the pace in how we made the transition and how we controlled the ball was very positive. The two midfielders loved the space afforded to them and when a game opens up we clearly have the ability to dominate our opposition
Need To Work On –
We can’t be hyper-critical as we sit top of the table on maximum points but we maybe do need to be a bit more ruthless at times and at some point share out the goals! It would be great to see people like Clark and Appere get in amongst it a bit more to alleviate any pressure on Shankland’s shoulders.
Up Next –
Where to start?!?! If anyone thinks that this week will be anything other than clock-watching at work and trying to stay calm then you are sorely mistaken. I will be a big ball of nerves over the next few days so it is best not to push me too much or stress me out more than I will be!
I say that but actually on reflection yesterday provides us with a slight release on the pressure given that gap between ourselves and Dundee. It is obviously still a huge game and a massive fixture but the ‘must win’ element has maybe been removed a little bit if you look at it purely from a league table point of view. Psychological it is a must win and don’t get me wrong, I want to deliver a defeat so harrowing it destroys Dundee’s confidence for the remainder of the campaign, but yesterday (and maybe a little bit of this morning) I feel a bit more relaxed than I was expecting. I do however reserve the right to withdraw this state of mind at anytime (and probably will as of 6am tomorrow morning).
The only bit I truly enjoy and savour during a derby match is the few minutes before kick-off and the teams coming out. It is a truly euphoric moment in amongst the chaos but what follows is 90 minutes of hoping your team doesn’t make mistakes and avoids defeat. We all love it, we all hate it. One thing we would never do is swap it for anything else.
The derby is back.
BRING. IT. ON.
Championship Results – Week 3
Greenock Morton 3 – 2 Partick Thistle (Friday)
Alloa 0 – 1 Arbroath
Dundee 0 – 0 Inverness
Dunfermline 0 – 2 Dundee United
Ayr 1 – 0 Queen of the South
Dundee United v Dundee (Friday)
Inverness v Morton (Friday)
Arbroath v Dunfermline
Partick Thistle v Ayr United
Queen of the South v Alloa