It is probably too late to wish everyone a Happy New Year isn’t it? We are at the far end of that weird corridor of uncertainty with regards to well wishing and hand shaking but regardless, I hope that everyone had a relaxing festive season and that you all have a great 2020 ahead of you.
Of course, the one big footballing hope we all have for this calendar year is that we return to the Premiership and then consolidate our position in the top-flight. At the moment it is looking increasingly likely that the first part of that wish is within our grasp but despite our huge lead we probably have another 6 or 7 games to navigate before my brain can really begin to relax. Talk of when we might win the title still, at the moment, freaks me out a little but that is probably more to do with how United have treated us in recent years!
January is always a challenging time in football. With teams around the country strengthening and altering their squad you can see dramatic changes (both positive and negative) moving into the second half of the campaign. Luckily we are in a slightly more comfortable spot this season, and our transfer policy is very different in comparison to the years before this one.
On that note, last week I published my transfer window live blog post and that can be found here.
Talking of transfers, we welcomed two new faces to the club ahead of the trip to Firhill. It had been common knowledge that both Kieran Freeman and Dillon Powers were on trial at Tannadice, with both now officially unveiled as new signings. The American, Powers, has joined until the summer of 2021 and the former youth player Freeman returns to Tannadice on a deal until the summer, presumably in an attempt to prove his fitness after some bad luck with surgeries.
With some injury concerns and a tricky trip to Firhill (in terrible conditions), could United make it 12 games unbeaten and further extend our lead at the top?
Of course we did…
I had bookmarked our game yesterday as the potential banana skin that would end our incredible run. I thought to myself that a recently galvanised Thistle side under our old buddy Ian ‘Jobbie’ McCall, mixed with some bad weather, the law of footballing averages and a mini injury pile-up had created a perfect cocktail of reasons for us to drop points and maybe suffer a rare defeat. Thankfully, my fears were unrealised.
Yesterday’s performance wasn’t the perfect 90 minutes, but after half an hour of fairly poor and laboured football we started to pick up the pace and Partick Thistle could not cope. We dominated McCall’s team after our opening goal and 60 minutes of controlled, attacking football felt incredibly satisfying after a few weeks of grinding out results without much creativity. It was a display that was thoroughly enjoyed by the incredible 1500+ United fans who, although all drenched given the trip, left Firhill with yet another spring in the step.
Re-visiting the opening spell yesterday it did seem as though the forced changes and different lineup had a negative impact on the performance early on. With Dillon Powers making his debut alongside a makeshift central midfield pairing of Declan Glass and Nicky Clark, our 4141 led to a disjointed half hour. In particular our left-hand side of Reynolds and Sporle were caught out on a couple of occasions given the tendency for Reynolds to drift more centrally and with Sporle switching off defensively. I have a soft spot for the Argentinian who I think has great potential, but he is someone who still looks a little hesitant and unsure of his positioning at times.
Partick targeted long diagonal balls in behind our defence during this spell and although it wasn’t particularly pretty they did get some success with this style of play. Shortly before our opener we needed Siegrist to pull off two very good saves to keep us in the game.
Our first goal made the difference. Shankland did what he does best and by scoring out of nowhere it seemed to shake United into life whilst simultanuesly knocking Partick out of their own rhythm. After that headed opener we didn’t really look back, helped by Partick Thistle’s implosion and their bizarre tactical changes (Kenny Miller moving to an isolated lone striker role being my favourite). For some reason, tactical genius and uber coach McCall decided to abandon their system that had served them pretty well early in the match. Oh well, hard luck Jobbie man.
N.B – Is it ‘Jobby’ or ‘Jobbie’? I think I have always used ‘Jobbie’ but yesterday, given the result, I saw both variations being used. It’s nice to have this kind of problem right now. I’d rather debate with myself about the spelling of ‘Jobbie’ than talk about the potential implosion of my football club. How times have changed.
So, here we are, yet again talking about a performance synonymous with teams who win leagues. Once more we managed to ride a storm without suffering too many knocks before then turning things to our advantage and taking home the points. The different aspect yesterday was the return to some attacking intent and a few goals.
The only black mark against yesterday was the injury to Clark. Hopefully it isn’t as bad as feared but it did look a sore one and at a terrible time for someone who is in good form and currently negotiating a contract extension It was a tackle he didn’t have to make but you cannot predict these things and hopefully he makes a speedy recovery.
With Dundee, Ayr and Inverness all not playing yesterday we now extend our lead at the top to a ridiculous SEVENTEEN points. Amazing.
What a time it is to be a United fan. The footballing world we all currently occupy is a beautiful shade of tangerine and it is full of positivity and optimism. Enjoy it.
Player Ratings –
1. Benjamin Siegrist – Two superb saves in the first-half. He has developed into a very good goalkeeper this season (although maybe at fault for the goal). 7
2. Liam Smith – Back to his solid best. Contributed well both defensively and offensively. 6
44. Paul Watson – The best compliment I can pay him is that he spent most of the game going unnoticed, given how comfortable he was. 6
5. Mark Connolly – Very composed, very strong and very assured. 6
6. Mark Reynolds – Did well once the game calmed down and Sporle started to grow in confidence (also maybe at fault for their goal). 6
27. Louis Appere – Another 90 minutes of hard work and positive contributions. 6
4. Dillon Powers – More on him in the next segment but a very impressive debut for the American. 7
21. Declan Glass – Once the game settled he started to show his quality. Very positive display and someone who could have a big few months ahead. 7
10. Nicky Clark – Forced to drop deep into a midfield role, given the injuries. Played well but decided on a poor challenge late on that he did not have to make, which could result in a serious injury. Fingers crossed it isn’t. 6
3. Adrian Sporle – An enigma of a player, someone who sometimes looks a bit scared and lost, then at other times he shows great technique and ability. Delighted for him that he got his goal. 7
24. Lawrence Shankland – Words can’t do him justice. The perfect hat-trick 10
8. Peter Pawlett – A positive return from injury. Hopefully he can stay fit…..
40. Chris Mochrie – Great to see the talented youngster. Should have maybe scored late on.
25. Adam King – A late replacement for Clark.
Man Of The Match –
Obviously this is going to be Lawrence Shankland. It was a masterclass in finishing.
Despite how good Shankland was, it is also worth mentioning one or two others. Once the game settled both Declan Glass and Dillon Powers were brilliant.
Glass is the type of player who stands out because he is naturally gifted with both feet. His ability to take the ball on either side gives him an edge and he grew in confidence once United gained a foothold in the game. He could be someone we need in the remaining games, especially if Clark is out for a while and we need someone to play that role behind Shankland.
For Powers it was a stroll in the park. He looks physically strong but the most positive thing for me was his ability to take the ball and spot a simple but effective release. He wanted to play the ball forward through the lines and he was always looking to receive a pass to then release someone else. If he can form a partnership with Butcher it could be a great pairing.
Talking Tactics –
The manager was forced to change the shape and it meant we started the game with a bit of hesitancy. We had Powers sitting in the lone defensive midfield role and four ahead of him but we were very quick to drop deep once we lost possession, meaning we spent large spells sitting in and not engaging the ball. Thankfully once we got the goal it opened up and we started to use our midfield to push ahead.
Depending on how bad the injury to Clark is we may see Neilson using a 4231/4141 more often in the coming weeks.
The Positives –
Once again it is our ability to go about our business and put an opposition team to the sword. We navigated a tricky early spell and ended up winning comfortably.
The other constant right now is the superb backing of the team. The fans again were brilliant, being both vocal and patient. It is a great time to go and watch United, not just for the performance levels and victories, but for the positivity and enjoyment coming from the stands.
Need To Work On –
Nothing really stands out from yesterday, maybe just to be a bit more forceful from kick-off, so that we are not on the back foot early on. It was understandable yesterday, given the changes and conditions.
The late goal was disappointing, and you could see that the players were annoyed that they switched off.
Up Next –
Something different and something to get excited about. Next weekend is Scottish Cup time and we face a Premiership side who have had a turbulent few months but they have stabilised after a change in manager.
With the visit of Hibernian we see ourselves face an opposition that we should be meeting regularly next year and Hibs are a team that we probably want to try and mirror. When they won this division a few years ago they then went and pushed straight away for a spot at the top end of the Premiership. You would think that our plan is for similar success, so next weekend is a great test of where we are right now and it also gives us an indication as to what the club could be against next season.
It is also a chance for the fans to see how the players match up against top-flight opponents so, if you have not got your ticket yet, go get one!
Alloa P – P Arbroath (Waterlogged Pitch)
Dundee P – P Ayr United (Waterlogged Pitch)
Inverness P – P Queen of the South (Waterlogged Pitch)
Morton 3 – 2 Dunfermline
Partick 1 – 4 Dundee United