I trust that everyone had an enjoyable week? Did you feel that extra spring in your step?
Not content with giving us a very satisfying win over Dundee last weekend, the footballing gods decided to reward us further by gifting us a set of results on the Saturday that could not have been more perfect. Stunning wins for Arbroath and yesterday’s opponents Queen of the South helped us secure a clear six point lead at the top of the table and some mighty fine goal difference. None of us want to get ahead of ourselves but we are in a very healthy position as we approach the tough November – February run that historically has been our achilles heel.
Despite all of the positivity I can’t help but be a bit nervous each and every week, once the dust has settled and we hit Wednesday/Thursday. My brain never allows me to be totally relaxed and it is normally the case that I begin to over think and over analyse about the next challenge and the permutations of points and results. I genuinely sit down every week and work out what we and others have ahead of us and I do think way ahead of myself. This week there was a bit of an excuse to be slightly more relaxed given that the only other game being played this week did not involve any of our direct title rivals (although I’m sure Dick Campbell and the Arbroath fans will be hoping they might be!)
One possible cloud hanging over yesterday (and another reason for me to be a tad anxious) is that we were facing our first fixture without Lawrence Shankland and it meant that we headed into the Queen of the South game knowing that Robbie Neilson would have to come up with a system and a lineup that would soften that blow and give us the best chance at three points.
I said a few weeks ago that playing poorly and winning is something we need to get out of our system, and it would be great to get ourselves back into some kind of groove with regards to performance levels. Yesterday though? Missing Shankland and being in the midst of a great run meant that three points would do regardless of how we actually achieve it.
Now, for those of you who follow me on Twitter you will know that yesterday did not get off to a great start for me. As I arrived at Tannadice I realised that I had forgot my season ticket so I had to make a quick stop in the club shop to get a paper ticket. I also, just as I took my seat, noticed that I had left my glasses in the house. Nightmare.
Those Twitter followers will also know that I went out after the game to enjoy some post-match beers. So basically, yesterday is all a bit of a blur, both physically and metaphorically.
Things are pretty great though. Football is never easy and moments of clarity are rare but now, right now, this is as happy and content I have been as a United fan for a few years. Yesterday summed up all the good about the team at the moment and it is really nice to be able to go on social media or speak to people about United and it is all really, really positive.
The performance against Queen of the South was as complete as you might get in terms of it being a team of players all putting in a great shift. Everyone did their job and everyone performed well. The focus pre-match was on United trying to cope without Lawrence Shankland so it was fantastic to see the players answer those snipes and comments about us being a one man team and in such an emphatic way.
From minute one we were on top. We looked physically fitter, sharper and our football was slick. Players were making space, roaming from their positions, causing all sorts of difficulties for the Queen of the South backline and midfield. It was a thoroughly enjoyable watch.
The decision to deploy McMullan and Stanton on opposite wings meant that their movement started to drag the opponents from their own roles, allowing players like Harkes, Clark and Appere to move into freedom and await the ball.
Shooting down the hill in the first 45 minutes meant we could overload them early doors and it worked like a treat. These performances and this relentless pressure proves yet again that when we are in the groove we are by far and away the best side in the division. We’ve not seen it often enough but the signs are pointing to us now showing this dominance more and more often.
We remain in the Championship because of games like yesterday producing drab draws or silly defeats. I have always fancied us against the ‘bigger’ teams in the league but against sides like Queen of the South we have tended to struggle. The league is still in the early stages but we have shown what we are capable of so we need to keep going.
To enter a mini break in fixtures with a nine point lead and a very healthy goal difference makes a world of difference to everyone’s mood and enjoyment. As I said earlier it isn’t always easy being a football fan and moments of clarity are rare but this feels very, very good at the moment and long may it continue.
Player Ratings –
1. Benjamin Siegrist – Calm, assured and confident. He didn’t have much to do but coped comfortably when called upon. 6
2. Liam Smith – Continues to to impress and offers a natural balance to the defence. I’m a big fan of Smith. 7
44. Paul Watson – Continues his amazing run of performances with yet another brilliant display at the back. 8
6. Mark Reynolds – Found his passing boots after the Dundee game. Switched play well and comfortable on the ball. 7
17. Jamie Robson – Yet again we see Robson impress, He really has become a vital part of this team. 7
7. Paul McMullan – Unplayable at times. The ball was glued to his feet and he took his goal superbly before setting up Clark for our second. 8
18. Calum Butcher – Strolled most of the game, linking play and breaking things up. A very solid performance. 7
23. Ian Harkes – When he is confident and has space he really is a very good footballer. Grew into the game very well and unlucky not to score. 7
12. Sam Stanton – Took his goal very well and enjoyed cutting in from the flank. Not a natural winger but played well. 7
10. Nicky Clark – Bang on form and led the line very well in the absence of Shankland. 7
27. Louis Appere – Defenders struggle to cope with him at times. His pace, power and good feet mean he is unpredictable and exciting to watch. 8
20. Logan Chalmers– A brief appearance for Chalmers and he didn’t get much time on the ball.
40. Chris Mochrie – Some nice touches from the youngster.
11. Cammy Smith– A couple of bursting runs but did not make a huge impact.
Man Of The Match –
I’ve seen many people argue over this since yesterday and as a few have pointed out, it is a great time to be a football fan if all you can argue about is who your best player was. There are three or four names in the mix and it is a great problem to have.
In the stadium it was given to Paul McMullan and to be honest I would possibly side with that based on his opening 45 minutes. He was simply unplayable in the early stages and he took his goal superbly, as well as offer up a great through ball for Clark.
It was a brilliant team performance and it is harsh to single out individuals but it is worth noting the continued emergence of Paul Watson who yet again strolled through 90 minutes, and the fantastic work of Louis Appere upfront. The young forward must be brimming with confidence knowing that pretty much every week he is causing problems to every defender in the league. He has been a revelation this year.
Talking Tactics –
We seem to have now settled on a 442 and it is by far and away our best system. The focus yesterday would have been on Neilson and his plans to deal with Shankland being away with Scotland, so credit to him for sticking with the shape that is working for us.
One added feature to the 442 yesterday was the positioning of Paul McMullan and Sam Stanton on opposite sides to where they are most natural. What it allowed both players to do was cut inside and overload the middle of the park, as well as hit the line and us the overlapping fullbacks. It was a small change that made a huge difference.
The Positives –
Pretty much everything. We had huge pressure on us after such a good run of form and missing Lawrence Shankland but to be honest you would be hard pressed to say that we actually had any issues that his absence presented us with.
From minute one we were using the space really well and our passing was positive and quick. We also looked like we really enjoyed the pace of the game and as a fan I loved seeing wave after wave of attack with the wide variety of passing and build-up. It is never going to be easy to maintain such high standards but when we are on our game we are comfortably the best team in this division. Happy days!
Need To Work On –
Yesterday was as enjoyable a performance as you will see, so there isn’t much I can think of to look at as a weakness. It is a nice feeling to have and long may it continue!
Up Next –
After a hectic few weeks it is time to rest those legs and have a bit of relaxation time (and that goes for us fans a well as the players). We now don’t have a game for 14 days and that, in my opinion, is a good thing. It gives the club some time to recover before another frenzied run of games in the run up to Christmas.
In a fortnight we travel to Cappielow to take on Greenock Morton and it is yet another game that we should be targeting for maximum points. The last time we faced Morton we witnessed probably the worst opposition side at Tannadice in a long time so they will be keen to show United they can compete.
One final point worth mentioning on yesterday. It was announced at half-time that we have now raised the money for the Jim McLean statue. A huge well done to everyone involved in the fundraising. Fantastic news!
Championship Results – Week 14
Dundee United 3 – 0 Queen of the South
Greenock Morton 1 – 0 Arbroath