I, like many others, are lucky enough to be off work for part of the festive period. Having gone out on Friday afternoon for a few Christmas drinks, conversation in the pubs quickly turned to football and I realised during those chats that I am always delighted to have some home football to enjoy at this time of year. Away days are nice but there is something special about Christmas home games, having fans who maybe don’t live in Dundee, coming back to see family and making a trip to Tannadice. Crowds normally go up and the vibe (especially this year) is always very relaxed.
In the space of a week we entertain both Ayr United and Dundee. Then we will usher in 2020 with the January window opening and the possibility of some small changes to the squad. I do plan to give you my usual transfer window ‘live’ blog post, detailing contracts, transfers, club news etc. Hopefully that will go up in a few days but I am expecting it to be a fairly quiet January given the strength of the club at the moment.
Indeed, the game against Ayr United signals the end of the second quarter and we are now at the half way stage of the campaign. Eighteen gone, eighteen to go. Could United make it nine wins out of nine for this second quarter? The last time I witnessed someone win nine a row at Tannadice………………….actually, let’s not go there.
During the week I published a post summarising the recent run of wins despite us maybe not being at our best. Hopefully with a return to Tannadice, Sam Stanton’s 100th shirt, some pre-match Jon ‘Hands Up’ Daly and a big festive crowd we would get back to some free flowing, attacking football to send people home for Christmas in a happy and jolly mood.
Well, did we?
If it is festive cheer you are looking for then it is a big, big, NINE IN A ROW……..YES!!!
If it is free flowing and fancy football you are after? The answer is maybe a bit more complicated.
We literally cannot be doing anything more at the moment. Winning every single game in the second quarter is an unbelievable achievement. The players and management need huge credit for such a fantastic set of results and the fans have also played their part. One added element to this run has been the manner of victory in the last four games. We’ve fallen behind, we’ve faced monsoons, we’ve come up against the Gayfield gales. Yesterday? We managed to overcome a pretty poor opening 40 minutes to win a game comfortably and by four clear goals.
Something great is happening, and I am loving it.
The game yesterday was odd in the extreme. We toiled in the opening exchanges and Ayr were very quick to close us down at every opportunity. They play good football and use their width to great effect. Despite their possession they didn’t have too many clear chances and we held pretty firm. Disappointingly, moving forward with the ball was an issue for us because our passing was off and we were slow in our build-up. The difference at the moment though is this ability to still feel reasonably in control. We were not at our best and Ayr were good BUT we still stood our ground and then punished a mistake by their backline. This gift of the lead was very much against the run of play but these are the goals and the moments that can win you titles.
In the second 45 things started in a fairly similar fashion but the game completely turned on its head after (in my opinion) a dubious penalty call by the ref. It looked like a swipe at the ball from Stanton and then a possible kick on his heel by the defender but the break definitely fell our way. On another day the ref waves on but yesterday we got the break. Then…
On the 16th of March 2008 Mark Kerr cost us the League Cup final against Rangers.
On the 21st of December 2019 the sound of a generation of United fans internally yelling – “GET IT RIGHT F*!&#NG UP YOU MARK KERR!!!” could be felt by all inside Tannadice.
Who knows what was said to the referee but shortly after our penalty award, Mark Kerr decided to go absolutely tonto, and as a result, was sent off. Jackpot.
Want more? Well, here is Mark Kerr dressed as Santa…
After Shankland despatched the penalty kick the game started to play out like a training match, with Ayr dropping deep, making mistakes along the way and gifting United a number of chances. Thankfully we added a couple of goals to send everyone home happy for the holidays and it was great to see four different scorers. Clark’s smart finish for the third was followed up by an Ian Harkes ripper from 20 yards. The man has beautiful hair but he can also strike a ball pretty sweetly when he decides to have a pop at goal (although his left foot sclaff that hit The Shed roof in the first-half should not be mentioned again).
The results elsewhere didn’t go our way, but they won’t always fall kindly for us. We’ve had a good run of things working in our favour but the important thing is that we take care of ourselves and we did that, despite the poor opening spell. Winning whilst playing poorly, winning whilst not looking at your best – these are the hallmarks of a team who will win things.
We face Dundee next Friday and the attention will rightly now turn to that, but it is important that we all take time to reflect on a marvellous run of form.
Eighteen down. Eighteen to go.
Player Ratings –
1. Benjamin Siegrist – Really important performance in the first half, making one or two crucial saves. Very quiet after the red card. 6
2. Liam Smith – Another really positive display, again showing his versatility, aggression and reading of the game. 7
44. Paul Watson – Still doing everything well and still undroppable for the foreseeable future. 6
6. Mark Reynolds – Some odd passing at times but defensively very sound. 6
17. Jamie Robson – Maybe didn’t get forward as often as he has been but yet another solid 90 minutes. 6
7. Paul McMullan – An up and down afternoon with some positive runs (and an assist). Still guilty of choosing the wrong final ball at times. 6
18. Calum Butcher – Huge player for us. Aggressive, controlled and the link in the middle of the park. Great afternoon for Butcher. 8
23. Ian Harkes – Scored an absolute peach, and in front of his family who are visiting. A well deserved reward for a great display. 8
12. Sam Stanton – Very similar to most weeks, quiet spells mixed with little moments of great control and driving energy. On a great run of scoring form. 7
10. Nicky Clark – Yet again on the scoresheet, proving his worth to the team. News of his contract extension should be announced this week. 7
24. Lawrence Shankland – Not at his absolute best (one or two missed chances late on). Still, he got a goal and had moments of class. 6
27. Louis Appere – Some great runs and lovely touches late on.
5. Mark Connolly – More minutes under the belt for Connolly.
25. Adam King – Some positive passing and energy in the middle.
Man Of The Match –
In such a strange game it is difficult to single out an individual because of the stop-start nature of the early stages. In the end we probably had two or three who made a positive impact in the second 45 and at times in that difficult first-half.
The sponsors gave this award to Calum Butcher and I see where that decision came from, he was yet agin very dominant in the middle. I personally though Liam Smith had another great game and I am a huge fan of his. The winner for yesterday though? An early Christmas gift for my Dad and Paul from the Dode Fox Podcast. I’m pretty sure my Dad started shouting – “My man” when Harkes scored. I might need to remind him that it is me who is meant to be “his man”. I am, after all, his actual son.
So for two men (and I am sure there are more) who love a bit of Ian Harkes, this award is for you.
Talking Tactics –
The system didn’t work in the first-half today. We used a 442 early on but we switched formation slightly and moved some players once or twice. It didn’t make any real difference. Ayr had our number in that early spell, using the 433 to overload our fullbacks and create space in the wide area. After the break it was much more like a flat 4141/451 to counter balance the Ayr attack, but this left Shankland isolated upfront.
After the red card things went out of the window in terms of trying to think about tactics because Ayr dropped right back to the edge of their own area and we just went about our business.
The Positives –
The obvious – NINE IN A ROW.
The other real positive for me was an enjoyable footballing sight – A cluster of suited and booted football fans, absolutely gassed, singing their hearts out. A huge thank you to the hospitality folk yesterday, you kept the singing going and kept us all entertained! Hopefully by the time some of you read this your hangover will have left your system!
Need To Work On –
I can’t be too critical and I don’t want to be. We just need to keep going, keep moving forward and keep that solid structure that allows us to approach each game with confidence. Playing poorly and picking up points is a phrase on constant repeat at the moment but it is true, teams who can do this, win things.
Up Next –
Another home match and the small matter of a Dundee Derby. It will be a game that on paper Dundee will fear given the form between the two sides, but anything can happen on the night and it is never a good thing to make predictions about such a big game. James McPake will surely have his team fired up for this, and they have just secured two big wins in a row which will give them confidence.
We will have a fantastic crowd on the night and we will again break recent records in terms of the number of United fans in Tannadice at any one time. With it being an evening kick-off and it being right in the middle of the festive period, I am sure that some of us will be a little exuberant by the time we get to our seats (I think I read someone make the point that it could be the drunkest derby in history). So for all of us – Make plenty of noise, back the team and have a brilliant time. Hopefully the players will respond by getting off to a quick start, turning the night into another victory over Dundee. C’mon United!
So, given that the Dundee game is next Friday, now is a good time to say that I wish each and every one of you a fantastic Christmas and hope that you fill yourself with food, booze, sweets and festive cheer. Just remember, that if you do gorge on sweeties and then get a United top for Christmas, the Macron stuff is a bit ‘snug’, so maybe give it a couple of weeks before trying anything on…
Merry Christmas to you all!
Championship Results – Week 18
Alloa 0 – 2 Greenock Morton
Dundee United 4 – 0 Ayr United
Inverness 2 – 0 Dunfermline
Partick 0 – 1 Dundee
Queen of the South 2 – 0 Arbroath
Dundee United v Dundee (Friday, BT Sport)
Ayr United v Queen of the South
Dunfermline v Alloa
Inverness v Arbroath
Greenock Morton v Partick Thistle