Well it has been a bit of an underwhelming fortnight at United. After such a strong start in the league we have limped through the last two fixtures and it has caused a little bit of unrest. That isn’t to say things are awful, they are most certainly still very positive, but the manner of the defeat to Arbroath in the Tunnock’s and then last week’s loss to Ayr means that the pressure is on for Neilson and his players to get things back on track.
Looking ahead, we have a run of matches that could be very fruitful. Two home games on the bounce then fixtures away to Alloa and Queen of the South would have most fans looking for 12 out of 12 and another four game winning run to mirror our start to the season.
By the end of the first quarter we will have a real picture of where we are and what we can expect this year. A fantastic start has given us all hope but the true test starts here. We have suffered a defeat in the league and things across the division will now start to settle down. It is at this stage we begin to see what teams are really made of.
Well, where to begin?
First of all, my Macaroni Pie was a revelation. Secondly, two pints of Carling and a bottle of Budweiser in the Hegarty Suite gave me a stark reminder as to how terrible both of those beers actually are. Thirdly? Do I really need to speak about the match?
Post-match I asked on Twitter whether or not it was possible to both boo and cheer at the same time. Hours later I’m still not 100% convinced we actually won yesterday! It was around the 70 minute mark that I had made my mind up that we were not going to score so I started to formulate a plan for this review. I had a wonderful rant all mapped out in my brain and I had committed to venting my frustrations. After such a dramatic turnaround this blog now becomes a much more difficult one to put together. I’m happy and angry. Positive, yet frustrated.
It was suggested to me as I was walking away from Tannadice that maybe this match review should be in two parts –
Part A – 0 minutes – 87 minutes
Part B – 87 minutes – 93 minutes
Make no mistake, yesterday, performance wise, was pretty grim. However, we did also see a miraculous comeback, a last minute winner and a huge three points added to United’s total. To judge the mood and the reflection on yesterday does feel a little difficult. Many will simply mark it down as a win then move on, but many will also look back at the match and be concerned at the sudden re-apearrance of frailties that have hindered us over the course of these last few seasons, especially against our achilles heel, sides that sit in and frustrate.
Looking at social media doesn’t help judge the mood because everyone does seem to be fairly split on how to sum up yesterday’s 93 minutes. Make no mistake, a last minute winner after being 1-0 down due to a terrible performance is a beautiful thing, and it is moments like that we all love. However, the incredibly frustrating 88 minutes before that release of joy were, in all honesty, pretty guff.
After a blistering start to the season with a high-press 442, we seem to have reverted back to the much maligned 4231/4411. Even more worrying is that we are possibly now back in the land of pedestrian football. Against both Ayr and Arbroath we have started to look a bit slower in possession, unlike in the early matches that we all enjoyed so much.
I am delighted that we still sit top of the Championship. To win in such dramatic fashion is something that will always give football fans a buzz. The sense of relief and the reaction from the players (who probably knew what awaited them if they hadn’t won) was great, but walking away from the ground the mind started to drift back to the performance that preceded Shankland’s fantastic late double.
Arbroath did enough to get something from yesterday. They will be absolutely fine this season and I have huge respect for the Campbell brothers and the job that they are doing.
The first-half saw us dominate the ball but not dominate the game from an attacking point of view. It is the type of football that brings out the worst in me and I cannot stand ‘safe’ passing when you are trying to break a team down. There is a time and place for taking your time and many might argue that against a system like Arbroath’s you need to be slow and methodical, but my gripe is that nobody was willing to commit energy and take part in little give and go passes. Nobody was willing to beat their man with a burst of pace or a bit of skill. We also persisted with long-diagonals to an isolated Shankland and a Peter Pawlett who was anonymous for much of the game. It didn’t work against Ayr and it certainly didn’t work yesterday.
I am not against long cross-field passes, and in a weird way it might have been the kind of tactic to work well against a well organised opposition. There is a need to switch play and press the channels with direct passing but what you need to do if you are playing that way is either give the defenders something to aim for (two strikers) or have your wide players run in behind. We did neither.
To flip it back to a positive, we are still in the driving seat. Sitting top after 5 wins in 6 is definitely a fantastic start. Yesterday was awful but it hopefully won’t be repeated. We draw a line under it, move on with three points and look ahead to Morton next week.
As I said at the beginning, I’m happy and angry, positive yet frustrated, but that’s a damn sight better than just being angry and frustrated.
I’ve checked back on my heart rate through my watch and there seems to be a nice steady level yesterday that suddenly takes a huge spike at 4:45pm. So, for the sake of my poor wee heart – United, don’t let this happen again!
Player Ratings –
1. Benjamin Siegrist – Had virtually nothing to do apart from pick the ball out of the net and look on as Arbroath should have added a second when Campbell’s strike hit the post. 5
2. Liam Smith – He did exceptionally well for the winner with a fantastic piece of skill then cross, but apart from that he had another difficult afternoon by all accounts. 5
18. Calum Butcher – He is much more mobile and comfortable on the ball than others at centre back but he had a frustrating game and some poor moments. 5
6. Mark Reynolds – Not impressed at all. He was very hesitant at times, almost leading to fatal errors. On a day when we needed our defenders to contribute to the build up play, he was found wanting. 4
17. Jamie Robson – Another assured afternoon for Robson who showed great determination and willingness to get forward. 6
11. Cammy Smith – We all want to see more of Cammy and for him to be utilised properly. Unfortunately this was a forgettable afternoon out on the wing. 4
12. Sam Stanton – Really needed him to drive the team forward and carry the ball but despite one or two early moments he never got going. 5
23. Ian Harkes – I thought this would have been the perfect game for Harkes and he started really brightly. He always shows for the ball but other than a few really decent moments early on he faded badly as the game started to frustrate United. 5
8. Peter Pawlett – He was used as a number 10 but spent most of the game as a passenger then he looked exhausted from the 60 minute mark, which is not uncommon. I like Pawlett, he has great ability, but he needs to offer more. 4
27. Louis Appere – Didn’t work out for him yesterday. Some poor decision making maybe knocked his confidence, but it also doesn’t help that he is now stuck out on the wing and on his wrong foot. 5
24. Lawrence Shankland – 87 minutes of no service and then all of a sudden two moments of absolute brilliance. Saved the day. Keep him fit and he might win us the league singlehandedly. 7
3. Adrian Sporle – A very positive 30 minutes from the Argentinian. Would be keen to see more of him in an advanced position.
7. Paul McMullan – Tried to get involved but his passing was way off when we needed to make the breakthrough. Edit – Until his assist for Shankland’s first! I forgot about it at the time (I was in too much of a huff) but it has been mentioned by a few since and I’ve watched it back. Top stuff!
20. Logan Chalmers – Little time to make an impact but looked lively and his confidence will be sky high after his contract extension this week.
Man Of The Match –
Much like last week it is a real challenge to try and name a single player who stood out. As you can see from my ratings above it was avery below par week for almost everyone in tangerine. What I would say is that Jamie Robson continues to show great enthusiasm and determination. He is a player transformed from last year and if others had replicated his energy levels then maybe yesterday would have been a bit easier on the eye.
Another surprise mention (just given how little we have seen of him) is Adrian Sporle. Despite playing further forward than his natural left-back role, he showed some lovely touches and was constantly driving forward with the ball. Maybe a starting place on the left wing at some point?
Inevitably the actual award must go to Lawrence Shankland. Two fantastic finishes under real pressure see us maintain top spot and prevent a complete nuclear meltdown on the internet this weekend.
Talking Tactics –
During the week the United social media team posted some short clips on Twitter and across other platforms. The titles of the videos included the words “high intensity” to describe the work being done on the training pitches. It then begs the question, what happened to all that intensity yesterday?
I have spoken time and time again about how much I enjoy a high pressing style of football and I am utterly convinced that when you look back at Hibs, Livingston, St.Mirren and others who have done well in this division you see that same level of energy. I’m not saying that this brand of football is perfect but we’ve recently displayed similar traits and have won conformably using that type of system. Why have we all of a sudden stopped? It has only been two fixtures an I understand that we will not always play the same way but I miss that energy and pressure.
The Positives –
Well I did like my Macaroni Pie.
The big positives from yesterday of course came between the 87th and 92nd minute. I thoroughly enjoyed the winner and it was great to see such relief amongst the support. It didn’t matter that we had been terrible for 87 minutes or that we were playing Arbroath, a winner in that fashion always sparks brilliant celebrations and for a few moments all is good in the world and football is brilliant.
Need To Work On –
The speed in which we move the ball. We can’t escape the fact that many of this year’s matches will be played in a similar fashion to yesterday. Lots of teams will be happy to provide us with a structured and organised test of character so we need to take the game to them in a much more fluid way. Cutting out some of the safe and pedestrian passes might mean we are sharper in possession and we can hit teams with a bit of pace in our build-up play.
Up Next –
A second home fixture on the spin and the visit of Greenock Morton.
It has been a strange season so far at Cappielow, with some absolute hidings but also a few great results in games where they have been up against it. They managed to beat Dundee yesterday to register their first clean sheet of the season.
You would imagine the afternoon might a bit more open than yesterday so hopefully with more space on the pitch we can get things going and move the ball better. Fingers crossed we also return to a 442 and an intensity level that served us so well in the opening weeks.
Championship Results – Week 5
Alloa 1 – 4 Ayr United
Dundee United 2 – 1 Arbroath
Inverness 2 – 0 Queen of the South
Greenock Morton 1 – 0 Dundee
Partick Thistle 0 – 3 Dunfermline
Queen of the South vs Dundee (Friday, BBC Scotland)
Arbroath vs Ayr United
Dundee United vs Greenock Morton
Dunfermline vs Alloa
Inverness vs Partick Thistle