Dundee United vs Dunfermline Athletic Review – Matchday Ten

I’ve tried to detach myself from United this week. Last Saturday was tough to take and it was the kind of defeat and the kind of experience that deflates you so much that you need to take your mind off football. I haven’t completely ignored the beautiful game, I’m not a mentalist, but I have tried to let the week wash over me and not listen to the player interviews or pre-match build-up.

It has been a fairly quiet few days, which is no bad thing, but there were two things that peaked my interest over Friday and Saturday morning.

The first was the decision by the club to release the Dundee tickets at 5pm on Saturday afternoon. Personally I felt that this was a poor call by Mal Brannigan. You can never please everyone but for me the planning could have been better. It might have been that I was still in a huff after Dumfries but part of me didn’t really want to be anxious on Saturday late in the game, as people were leaving to queue. I also didn’t fancy the prospect of waiting in a long line for a couple of hours on Saturday evening, rather than just heading home after the match had ended. I still think the club should have been better prepared in offering a loyalty scheme for away tickets, but that is a debate for another day.

The second flash of intrigue came in the shape of an article written by Alan Pattullo, a Dundee fan, for The Scotsman (Link). It was a piece that had the tagline/hook of Dundee United’s financial commitments and how that relates to our title hopes this year and beyond. The article itself was one that appeared out of the blue but I suppose the content could be of some concern given that the club are currently spending a wage to revenue ratio of 133%. That figure is huge.

We all know that the owners and board members have been quite public about their financial backing (and the accounts published in the article are from last season) but it is a massive risk committing that kind of percentage to wages. Only time will tell if it is a gamble that is worth it.

Anyway, on to the Dunfermline match. After a couple of horrific weeks on the pitch yesterday was massive. A win could have been a huge boost to everyone at the club plus the fans needed to see something that would help re-build confidence in this squad and in the manager.

The first thing we all noticed when this lineup appeared was the balance in the back four. Thankfully, after what felt like an eternity, we had a natural left-back and a natural right-back supporting the two central defenders. It continues to amaze me the turnaround in Jamie Robson but it is very much the case that he is a huge part of this team and we need him fit to keep that stability in the backline (and allow Smith to play his preferred role). Why Sporle hadn’t been given a chance in recent weeks remains a mystery but we have looked incredibly awkward with Smith on the left and Watson on the right.

Rejoice! After a couple of extremely negative blog posts, we can all relax (a bit) and get back to a small slice of positivity! A 2-0 win over Dunfermline and some helpful results across the division means a little bit of faith has been restored and we can begin to relieve some of the tension that has been building. Things are not perfect but yesterday was a big, big psychological boost for the players and the fans.

It was a strange match (and it was utterly forgettable) but it was enough to highlight yet again that this division contains teams that we can beat comfortably whilst not being at our best. What we do need to be is solid, practical and determined but we do not need to be world-beaters to get the better of many sides in the Championship. We have missed that professional and consistent cutting edge in recent weeks so to have it back does provide us with a little bit of relief. It also builds a bit of hope that the next few weeks could get things back on track.

We have a quick-fire double coming up over the next seven days and if we can get a win on Tuesday then avoid defeat in Inverness we will be a third of the way through the second quarter with a very healthy return.

Performance wise I think the pleasing aspect about yesterday was the controlled and structured defensive display on show. I always look at things from a defensive point of view, it is just how I have always watched football (so the last few weeks have been a nightmare). You could see that both Brown and Reynolds felt more comfortable having Smith and Robson back in their normal roles. Both fullbacks provided natural cover and both got forward when needed. There was still bit of sideways passing but the balls out to the fullbacks were much more confident and assured. I have alway been of the opinion that your fullbacks are the most important aspect of your team from a defensive point of view. If they can provide those around them with stability and consistency then it can transform a team performance.

Further forward I felt that Butcher was back to providing the basic cover and stability needed but Harkes was maybe little bit erratic. He was always trying to get involved but his passing and timing seemed to be a little off in spells. It did help that Dunfermline’s own midfield were soft and error prone but we do still lack a real leader in the middle. Could you imagine a fully fit Fyvie or a player of that type in this team? That dynamic, game controlling role is still a gap we haven’t really filled. We have a few midfielders who can do a little bit of everything but we need a presence in that central area.

The atmosphere inside Tannadice was very edgy yesterday and it was the very vocal (but relatively small) Dunfermline fans who made most of the noise. It was maybe a bit of nerves from the United fans but it was also maybe a little bit of – “well go on, impress us”, after the last couple of performances, and that is to be expected. I know that I went along today with a bit of a Dumfries shaped chip on my shoulder so it took me time to get into the spirit of things.

Fans are still turning up in numbers but that early season momentum and excitement has been lost a little bit due to recent results. A good display on Tuesday would see things back up and running. I would say that there wasn’t really any negativity yesterday it was just a bit flat, maybe understandably (plus it was bloody freezing).

Overall it was a game that many will likely forget, and some will want to forget, despite the scoreline. We had a bright spell after the second goal when it looked like we were returning to a bit of higher energy football but the second half started slowly and that set the tone for the remainder. The last twenty minutes became all about seeing the game out and in that sense our game management was okay, with it yielding a clean sheet and a big three points.

A win, is a win, is a win.

Player Ratings – 

1. Benjamin Siegrist – Largely a spectator in terms of urgent action but made one very good stop and a few strong catches late on.  6

2. Liam Smith – Back to looking much more comfortable on the right. He was strong defensively and looked to get forward when needed.  6

19. Troy Brown – After a very poor display in Dumfries it was a big improvement for Brown who controlled things defensively.  7

6. Mark Reynolds – Enjoyed a very positive afternoon with a very comfortable and commanding display.  7

17. Jamie Robson – A welcome return for our first-choice. Makes the defence so much more balanced and had a solid game.  6

7. Paul McMullan – A really strange display from McMullan who usually relishes playing Dunfermline. Erratic on the ball and some bizarre choices when looking for a pass.  4

18. Calum Butcher – A very bog standard but effective Butcher-esque display. What we needed (and a huge improvement on his performance last week). 6 

23. Ian Harkes – Maybe tried to do too much at times, choosing flicks and turns instead of simple balls. Still had moments of quality but faded as the game went on.  5

8. Peter Pawlett – Didn’t have a huge amount if involvement but put a good shift in and was still a danger at times. He drifts inside when he plays wide which leaves the left-back with little support.  5

10. Nicky Clark – For someone who has had a difficult season this was the perfect way to get up and running (and even better that it was against Dunfermline). Hopefully the start of him chipping in with goals and assists.  7

24. Lawrence Shankland – On the score sheet yet again and he was impressive at times with his commitment to the defensive side of things.  6

Subs – 

27. Louis Appere– I thought he was one of our only performers last week so I was surprised to see him on the bench. Provided a great amount of running late in the game.

25. Adam King – The lesser spotted Adam King! Did okay but his involvement was pretty minimal.

11. Cammy Smith– Used as a time wasting tool in the final seconds.

Man Of The Match –

It was a great win for the club and an important result in our season but it was a pretty forgettable display and one that doesn’t really have a stand out or an individual display that will be remembered.

There would be an argument for both central defenders and some would also maybe include someone like Butcher but even then you wouldn’t be including anyone for any real reason other than they were effective without being outstanding.

For me I think the sponsors probably made the right call by giving it to Nicky Clark. This has been a poor season for him due to injuries and being pushed out on the wing but yesterday he managed to get on the score sheet will a lovely free-kick and notch an assist. He did have a very bright first 45 but he, like most others, faded in the second half.

Talking Tactics – 

This blog has spoken many times about the formations used by Neilson and the demand for a 442 rather than 4231. I have said all along that the system itself doesn’t bother me, it is the execution and application that makes the difference. We played 442 at Palmerston and it just didn’t work but that was in part due to us having no balance and no width. That returned yesterday.

We did at least use our natural width in the fullback areas to allow our wide midfielders the opportunity to get the ball in the box but also for the fullbacks to put deep crosses into the area. It didn’t always work but it gives you an extra dimension.

I’m still of the opinion that we are missing something in the middle of the park. We seem to use our central midfielders as players who come deep to collect the ball from the defence but they don’t then occupy the space further forward which leaves us with fewer options and a massive gap across 30 or so yards that could be used much more effectively.

The Positives –

The psychological impact of getting a win, a clean sheet and another Tannadice victory could mean the start of another little run of results. It will also hopefully ease the tensions a little bit and allow us to look forward to Tuesday night and the upcoming games.

Need To Work On – 

As I have already touched on I think we still miss a piece of the puzzle in the middle of the park. We lack someone who can carry the ball in a confident and controlled way. 

I also felt that our set-pieces yesterday were back to being a little underwhelming. We haven’t really been much of a danger recently and I thought yesterday might have been a good opportunity given that Dunfermline, one or two players apart, are not a particularly tall or physical side. 

Up Next –

Not much time to rest as we face Partick Thistle on Tuesday night at Tannadice. Maybe a quick turnaround is a good thing (I hope it is). We seem to be a team who let longer build ups get to us and it might be a blessing that we have little time to wait before getting back to action. It is great we are at Tannadice rather than it being a long away journey (although that will come on Saturday).

Partick were humbled by Arbroath yesterday and now sit two points clear at the bottom of the table. they will have to come at us on Tuesday which could suit us, but at the same time Ian McCall will be absolutely desperate to get a result at Tannadice. A win would be a brilliant precursor to the Inverness trip.

Championship Results – Week 7

Ayr United 1 – 2 Dundee (Friday)

Alloa 2 – 2 Queen of the South

Dundee United 2 – 0 Dunfermline

Morton 2 – 1 Inverness

Partick Thistle 1 – 3 Arbroath

Next…

Alloa vs Dundee (Tuesday)

Dundee United vs Partick Thistle (Tuesday)

Dunfermline vs Arbroath (Tuesday)

Greenock Morton vs Ayr United (Tuesday)

Queen of the South vs Inverness (Tuesday)