I’ve had a difficult week. My personal life has been a challenge and for the first time in my life I have been the victim of online hate. It has taken it’s toll.
Writing a blog you always know that you will have people who disagree with you, but since I published my last post and then the subsequent discussion of that post on the Dode Fox Podcast, things have unraveled.
But I have decided to rise above the haters and be proud of who I am. Ignore that hate and embrace my life choices. So, for the record – I LIKE MUSTARD ON MY MACARONI PIES AND THERE IS NOTHING ANYONE CAN DO ABOUT IT! There, I’ve said it.
Moving on to the football I think that most of us wanted to file away the Arbroath game in the category of “exciting finish, but never again please”. I am a regular on Pie and Bovril and this week we had a long debate about the merits of good football vs results. It revolved around the concerns some had post-Arbroath but also with some of the performances we have had under Neilson in general. We have had a tendency on going through games with a risky, low pressing style of play that has seen us concede cheap points. Early this season we seemed to put that to bed by playing with real purpose and energy
Well, with the Arbroath game out of the way and chance to wipe last week from our memories, what did United have for us?
Before I look at the most enjoyable afternoon of football in recent memory let’s for a moment pause to reflect on the graphic above and look back at the sheer panic it caused. It didn’t help that the United media account had a delay to being able to publish it, but when they did release this image it caused quite a stir.
A surprise injury to Jamie Robson and a place on the bench for both Louis Appere and Sam Stanton mean a real shuffle in the pack, more so than in any game previous to this one.
Despite rumours about a 532/352 we did eventually lineup in a 4231. Pawlett had the job of sitting slightly in behind Shankland with Sporle and McMullan providing width.
The game itself got off to an astonishingly quick start and you could sense the relief amongst the support almost instantly. A quick fire double inside five minutes meant that for the first time this season we were in a position to control a game with the buffer of an early lead (I know we had similar scenarios in the Inverness and Dundee games but yesterday’s cushion arrived so much earlier).
How could United respond to this early two goal lead? Marvellously.
It is rare as a football fan to be so utterly satisfied with a performance but yesterday was as close as you will get. Pace, movement, aggression and creativity. If we carry on like this then the league is ours. It won’t always be possible to play with such freedom and in certain games we may still need to change things slightly, but there is no reason why most games can’t go the same way. Scoring six goals every week isn’t a realistic aim but playing with this style is.
Morton were brutal but we took advantage and that is something we haven’t always been great at. The side from Cappielow were so loose all over the park and their midfield two of McAlister and Millar performed exactly how you would expect two elderly footballers would. This allowed Butcher, Harkes and Pawlett the freedom to completely dominate and release others. The midfield ‘contest’ made the difference yesterday but we were also faced with a back four who were all over the shop. Morton could not string two passes together and in stark contrast to Arbroath’s mega structured system last week, the men from Cappielow seemed totally lost. We of course needed to capitalise on this, and we most certainly did.
There is actually nothing better than watching your side playing with confidence. Every pass connected, every move looked dangerous. It also helped those who needed a nice and positive 90 minutes. Players like Pawlett and Sporle could gain the confidence of beating men, which for the Argentinian in particular, means a great boost. So too Ian Harkes, who had the space and time to show us the class he has.
At the back we had Troy Brown making his home debut. He will be delighted that the afternoon gave him the chance to show us the strengths he has without ever really being too uncomfortable. After a disappointing appearance against Ayr he will feel much more relaxed.
There is so much more I want to say but I know that there will be little things I might miss. Shankland was obviously superb and we are so lucky to have him. The crowd was again very healthy and we all found our singing voices again. Another Academy graduate notching a goal is another positive mark against the work being done to nurture our young talent and it was also pleasing to see us share out the goals a little bit more.
During the post-match comments the players and manager remained humble and grounded, already looking at the Alloa game as the next hurdle. They will be over at St.Andrews today absolutely buzzing but will be reminded immediately that we need to keep this going.
The only slight grumble from yesterday is something we have no control over, Ayr picking up another impressive win. It looked a tricky game but they despatched Arbroath with ease. At least Partick won up in Inverness, that does create a little bit more of gap between us and them.
We proved yet again yesterday that we have the tools to win this title. The most pleasing aspect (apart from the six goals) came from the performance and energy levels. Maintain our energy, drive, pace and pressure then the league will be ours.
Player Ratings –
1. Benjamin Siegrist – A spectator. 6
44. Paul Watson – I’ve always had a bit of a soft spot for Watson. I don’t think he is great but in certain games he makes a perfectly able defensive right-back. 6
19. Troy Brown – Very assured, very calm, very dominant. A great home debut. 8
6. Mark Reynolds – Rarely tested and was always comfortable. Still guilty of some weird, weird passing. 6
2. Liam Smith – A difficult job to switch sides (and he might have to stay there for a few weeks). Played very well and used his ability to cut inside on his right to open up the play. 7
7. Paul McMullan – A pretty complete performance and possibly his best display for United. A real buzzbomb all afternoon, causing all sorts of bother to Morton. 9
18. Calum Butcher – A throughly professional and dominant performance in the midfield. In complete control over the Morton middle two. 8
23. Ian Harkes – One of those games where he highlighted all the great attributes he has. Continues to also look much more physical than last season. 8
8. Peter Pawlett – He needed a game like this. Ran all afternoon, beating man after man and unlucky not to score a superb goal. 7
3. Adrian Sporle – Delighted for the quiet Argentinian. It has been a tough few weeks but this could be the start of a long run in the team. 8
24. Lawrence Shankland – Running out of superlatives. As natural a finisher as you are likely to see. Even some of the Morton fans gave him a wee clap as he left the pitch. 9
12. Sam Stanton– May feel aggrieved at being dropped but it was the right call. Did pretty well for his 30 minute spell.
20. Logan Chalmers – Delighted for the youth graduate to get his first league goal for the club. Well done Logan!
27. Louis Appere– Missing in the starting eleven for the first time this league season. A brief appearance, he had little time to do much.
Man Of The Match –
Take your pick! I have seen multiple candidates for this award since 5pm yesterday and it is a nice problem to have when you could genuinely pick three or four who may feel they deserve it.
During the first-half I would have said Adrian Sporle, in part due to his excellent performance but also just as a reward for the season he has had and the settling in he has had to do. A difficult first few weeks seem to now be behind him.
Ultimately it probably boils down to either Paul McMullan or Lawrence Shankland. Both excelled yesterday and with both getting amongst the goals it is a tight call. I am probably tempted more to side with Paul McMullan (and let’s be honest Shankland has enough of these awards already!).
We don’t have another player quitE like McMullan and when he is on form he is practically unplayable. Yesterday he did it all. Beyond the goals he scored his assist tally for the year is already very impressive.
Talking Tactics –
Yesterday proved that formation isn’t key, the energy levels and movement within the formation is the secret. Whether it is 442 or 4231 we are reliant on how much the players use space and pressure to make it work.
Having both wide players and the number 10 get beyond the ball makes a huge difference and what we witnessed against Morton proved that a ‘lone’ striker isn’t alone if he has players swarming the final third to give him support and service.
We also had Butcher dropping deep to collect the ball and Harkes being much more box-to-box. This is something else that within a 4231 is critical. Rather than having the two sitting midfielders concentrate on just the defensive game we need at least one to carry the ball.
The Positives –
Everything really. It was just an incredibly satisfying afternoon from start to finish. I don’t think there is much more I can add to that!
Need To Work On –
Maintaining these high standards. The only problem with playing so well is that you show what you are capable of and fans will rightly demand that same level most weeks.
We are now very much into the league campaign so any kind of momentum will help us cement our place at the top of the table. I think that Ayr United will probably carry on as normal for a few weeks before maybe taking a dip, so it is vital we keep up the performance levels.
Up Next –
We travel to bottom side Alloa. With the game being on BBC Scotland it means we have a chance to lay down a marker on Friday evening ahead of the other games next weekend.
Although Alloa have have only won once in the last five we are a team who, in the past, have struggled in some of these fixtures. Hopefully this season we put those fears to bed and we show what we are capable of. Another strong start should be enough to allow us to control the game on a newly widened pitch.
The announcement from this blog is that I will still get to see the game but I am off on holiday for a week early the next morning with my family, so there will be NO blog next weekend. Hopefully United send me away with a win!
We have a short fixture break after the Alloa match so it would be great to get another three points before a long journey to Dumfries in mid-October.
Championship Results – Week 7
Queen of the South 1 – 1 Dundee
Dundee United 6 – 0 Greenock Morton
Dunfermline 1 – 1 Alloa
Inverness 1 – 3 Partick Thistle
Arbroath 0 – 3 Ayr United
Alloa vs Dundee United (Friday, BBC Scotland)
Ayr United vs Inverness
Dundee vs Arbroath
Greenock Morton vs Dunfermline
Partick Thistle vs Queen of the South