Last Monday morning I woke up with an almighty case of man flu. As I write this, I am still feeling the after effects and I’m at the age now where these things cannot just be shaken off with the power of youth (or alcohol). So, on the Tuesday of last week I really, really, really wanted the game against Greenock Morton to be postponed for a second time. The morning of the game was spent refreshing and refreshing all the social media platforms available to me but as the day went on it became obvious that I was going to have to travel to Greenock.
I use the phrase “have to” in the footballing supporter sense and not in the “forced against my will” sense. Most people, most ‘normal’ people, don’t really understand that sense of duty. These non-football fans, who walk among us, would have said that travelling to Greenock at any time to see your team play, let alone in monsoon conditions in the middle of December, is madness personified, but for a flu-ridden football fan like me I didn’t even give it a second thought once I knew the game was going ahead. That is what football does to people. It might be that most of the population would see the few hundred who made the long journey as being totally bonkers but for me it was a heroic trip that many of us make every week, regardless of weather, without even flinching. And you know what? I wouldn’t change that for the world.
This has probably been the most important week of our season so far. The Dundee derby victories were great, the pumping of Morton at Tannadice was superb, the dismantling of Inverness both home and away; brilliant, but this run of victories over Alloa, Morton and Arbroath may just prove to be the most significant of the season.
The football at Tannadice against Alloa was pretty good, but the resilience of the fans and players to respond after conceding was the real satisfaction. As for Morton and Arbroath? Well, the football across the 180 minutes was pretty grim, dire even (especially the second half in both matches). The conditions were awful at both Cappielow and Gayfield, BUT we won. The opposition sensed a bit of hesitancy and pushed for equalisers, BUT we won. We looked like conceding late on in both games, BUT we won.
Under Laszlo? We lose those games. The season previous to that under McKinnon? We get 0, 1 or 3 points from these three games. To get nine? It shows just how far things have moved on and it also shows us, the fans, that this group of players and this management team can get results even when we are playing poorly in tough conditions.
We may well lose to Ayr on Saturday, we may well drop points in the Dundee Derby (we won’t), but despite the future bumps in the road we are now in a position where these things can happen and it will not mean panic stations or meltdowns. We are in a safe place.
I walked away from Arbroath on Saturday with some fairly epic sinus pain (and that was a new experience for me) but also a sense of disbelief. We’ve been psychologically conditioned in recent seasons to always be cautious and wary of failure so it is natural that I still can’t quite comprehend the significance of a 13 point gap and a huge goal difference (although that might be one of the reasons I couldn’t get Higher Maths at school). This feels weird. It feels bloody amazing, but it also feels weird. Having such a big gap is a whole new world for us given the chasing mentality we have had since first arriving in the Championship. Always the chaser never the chased (a bit like my dating life pre-marriage). To now be the team everyone wants to catch is exciting and in some ways makes things even more tense, because you know that every week is a huge step towards the end. It is not about cutting a lead anymore, it is now about extending our own. If we win on Saturday we have managed an entire quarter of victories. Incredible stuff.
Despite this nice feeling there is no time to relax, we must keep going, but with every passing week you can start to dream a little bit more. Maybe you have started to think about possible signings for 2020/21 or maybe you have started to dream of the away trips next year. We aren’t there yet but even this early on we are edging ever closer. Although, on that away trip planning, it is one thing I will miss from the Championship if we do go up this year. Having seen some tweets from yesterday talking about £35+ ticket prices to visit certain Premiership grounds I can’t help but think that some of the trips we have made since being in the Championship have been pretty good, and very enjoyable. Cappielow on a Tuesday night? Bring it. East End Park on a lovely September afternoon, beers and bridies en-route? Happy days. All whilst paying, generally, a respectable fee for entry. I honestly don’t know if I will get to as many games next year if we win the league, given the scheduling and pricing of Premiership games.
Back to the football though and this week has been a slog, it has been a struggle, but we got there and we have picked up some huge points. From me you won’t get player ratings from both games, the matches were so bizarre and stop/start that it is difficult to say how ‘good’ all the players were. However, a few comments –
Benji Siegrist – Despite the wind, the rain and the heavy pitches he dealt with everything very well (although he didn’t adjust his kicking often enough on Saturday to deal with the wind).
Liam Smith – Continues to provide a dynamic option on the right. He is consistence personified and with Robson doing a similar job on the left the fullbacks are, as I have mentioned previously, one of the most important aspects of our side.
Mark Reynolds and Paul Watson – Cannot see this partnership being broken up anytime soon. For Watson especially this must be such a great time for him given his lack of game time early in the season. The pair have been immense in recent matches and coped extremely well in the conditions presented to them recently.
Butcher, Harkes and Stanton – These three continue to provide both defensive and attacking intent. All have perfomed their duties very well in these recent fixtures and we must hope that they are remain fit during the next busy spell.
Nicky Clark – Becoming more and more important to the team, providing a natural alternative to Shankland whilst being able to also play in one or two other roles.
Louis Appere – The young winger/striker has had a few brief transfer rumours attached to him this week and if he continues to improve then he will be on the radar for certain teams. He still lacks a real cutting edge in certain scenarios but that will come in time. He provides great energy, drive and flexibility.
Sir Lawrence Shankland – His goal against Morton was a superb piece of finishing and although his overall play has been rusty these past two matches you can still see the immense quality he has. Fingers crossed he is now injury free and that he can hit some more form over the next few weeks.
The Positives –
At the moment the real positive is the momentum generated in these last few weeks. To keep winning, whilst not being at our best, is the true mark of a succesful team. It also then bleeds into the fans and we have seen continually a huge and vocal support following United. This is probably the best it has been in a number of years and the unity between supporters makes for an enjoyable, relaxing and thoroughly satisfying experience. The gesture from the team at the end of the Morton game to give their tops away to supporters was a real touch of class and moments like that are only possible when things are so good (I was hoping for some free cold and flu tablets thrown into the crowd but I left disappointed). Periods like this in football are quite rare, so we need to enjoy it.
Need To Work On –
If I am to be granted one or two Christmas wishes by United it would be to invest in a genuine winger or two, to help relieve some of the pressure on Paul McMullan. We have nobody else like him and we have seen in these last two games that without real width in the midfield we struggle to have an outball or a different dynamic in our build-up. A couple of real trickster type wide midfielders would really help us. Unfortunately it looks like Peter Pawlett is not going to get back up and running anytime soon which means we do need cover in that area.
Up Next –
Ayr United visit Tannadice. Yet another team who seem to have haunted our time in the Championship, so yet another opportunity to put this to bed and move forward. We then have the small matter of the Dundee Derby but to first lay down a marker against Mark Kerr’s team would give us yet another boost.
From Me –
Finally, on a personal note I just want to thank everyone who reads this blog, stumbles across this website and comments on my Facebook/Twitter/Instagram. In a week where I felt pretty unwell I was really taken aback at the number of United fans who contacted me or messaged me to say that they missed the weekly report and wished me a speedy recovery (some also offering flu jab advice!)
I do sometimes find it more of a struggle to find the time to write this blog and every so often things seem to pile up at work and in the house with my family and wee one. We are currently in the process of buying a house, and at a very busy time of year, so the blog becomes this doubled edged sword. On one hand I do sometimes just want to get to the football then get home and relax (I even at times considering halting the blog altogether). On the flip side is the real desire I have to write about my footballing travels and experiences. People don’t always agree with me and my musings but since I was young I always enjoyed the analyses of football so this is a natural extension to that. I also get messages and comments which make me really pleased I do this. I’m constantly amazed at the number of people who read certain posts, and when I get my readership figures each week it does always make me smile. The same for social media, I try and make silly image collages with stupid filters or match preview images and even that gives me a wee boost when I see people liking or sharing those.
Anyway, I will put that last bit down to the paracetamol, ibuprofen, caffeine mix that has been swirling around my head for the last week. Thanks again to everyone who takes the time to read this blog.