I admire Alloa. I think they always play decent football and between them and Arbroath it is testament to hard work and commitment that they can, as part time teams, compete alongside their full time counterparts season after season. However, it is not an understatement to suggest that for us, Alloa away encapsulates everything negative about United in recent seasons. Regardless of how happy we all are at the moment, we always, always seem to save our worst for Alloa away (although Emil Lyng did a goal there once and they sell a pie on a roll).
Travelling to the ‘Indodrill’ has become a war of attrition and it has been the scene of some fairly epic, and mind the language, ‘Dundee United in the Championship Clusterfucks’. We have seen every weakness, every frailty and every embarrassment on that pitch during our time in the Championship (you only have to ask Adam Barton how tough it can be). To top it all off you can add the home fans paying less for the infamous pie on a roll than the away fans (at least I am sure it used to be like that). No offence Alloa, but hopefully we won’t be back anytime soon.
So, Valentines Evening? A time for love and affection?
With a chance to see Rakish Bingham for the first time in a United shirt, where else would you want to be?
Let’s begin this match report where most chronological match reports start………..the start.
The United lineup was pretty much as expected given our tight squad but Neilson did bring back Paul Watson, much to the delight of the fans. New striker Bingham started alongside Shankland in a makeshift 442 with Pawlett and Ian ‘never a winger’ Harkes out wide (more on that below).
In the early stages we looked reasonably comfortable without doing a huge amount with the ball. Jamie Robson was getting into some good spaces and we looked okay, especially down the left hand side. Then, in a story as old as time, we started to fade as the half went on. It is no coincidence that Alloa started to find more space once Pawlett’s twenty minutes of battery ended and Harkes, in an unfamiliar role, started to drift inside which left us exposed. The weather certainly didn’t help but the only sympathy I have with regards to the the conditions is reserved for the hardy souls behind the goal (although the Gazebo folk were not exactly living it up under their tarpaulin either).
The half came and went without anything of note and maybe the best of the ‘chances’ probably fell for Alloa, although neither team had any clear cut moments. We needed more from Shankland and we needed to get Bingham involved alongside him. We also needed something we always seem to need at the moment – more width.
Moving on to the second half, or as it is now known – ‘The Land of A Thousand Misplaced Crosses’. My goodness; what an absolute dirge. I mean, we controlled lengthy spells of possession but Alloa still threatened in short bursts and we needed Siegrist to make a crucial save. The main standout however was the horrific passing and even worse crossing. Look, I know, I know “we are a million points ahead at the top of the table, the boys have been great, calm down”, but really? We have been rotten in recent weeks and last night was yet again another 90 minutes that cannot be seen as anything other than a disappointment. Yes we are in a healthy position but two things –
Firstly, we have a run of really important games in the next few fixtures – Inverness, Ayr, Dunfermline. If we continue to play badly then we could be punished in a way that may see some real damage being done.
Secondly, if this is what we can expect for a prolonged period of time then wake me up when the title arrives because I don’t really want to be spending my time watching this (I mean, I will, I always will, but you get my point).
We are caught in a weird passage of time at the moment and I feel like I need to repeat something I have published before – It is okay to be happy with the season as a whole but very angry and disappointed with individual matches and short spells of fixtures. Please can we all agree that this is a thing that can happen? Once again last night we saw fans being wrongly criticised for pointing out flaws, and similarly fans criticised for being overly happy. The truth is that both things are true. We can be happy but angry at the same time, it’s actually all part of being a football fan.
Right now we are right in the middle of that mix of good and bad. The title may well be awarded to us in the near future but we are making it a real slog right now and the games are not enjoyable (they haven’t been for a few weeks). We also do have that nagging feeling based on years of psychological torture at the hands of United that we will somehow muck this right up. We won’t…………….at least, I think we won’t
One real positive of our recent performances must be the glaring need for reinforcements and the hope that Asghar and his team have already identified five or six new signings for next season. We can all see that the squad does not have the quality it needs in important areas but we are also severely lacking in depth across a few positions (yet again highlighted against Alloa, along with Neilson’s lack of faith in those on the bench).
I really hope that last night nobody was waiting at home for their partner returning from the football, candles on, primed for some Valentines smooching. After watching that? Not a chance.
Player Ratings –
No numbers this week, because I felt it was one of those ‘meh’ 90 minutes, so a larger piece of text on each player instead.
1. Benjamin Siegrist – Some wayward kicking but the conditions played part in that. Positionally he was very good actually, making one very crucial save in the second half. No concerns over him last night.
2. Liam Smith – I actually thought he did reasonably well given the lack of help he had ahead of him. He had to deal with several overloads and coped pretty well, but guilty of poor deliveries into the box.
5. Mark Connolly – Not much positive or negative to say really, very much a Connolly type performance with the odd moment of concern but also the threat from set pieces being a positive.
44. Paul Watson – The return of a man unfairly dropped in recent weeks. He is more mobile than Reynolds and seems more ‘engaged’ psychologically with the game and teammates (which is an issue I have with Reynolds as captain). Disappointed he wasn’t more of a threat at corners.
17. Jamie Robson – Dear oh dear. Positionally? No issues. Got himself ahead of Pawlett, tried to beat his man when he had the chance, defensively no real worries. However, his crossing and distribution? Absolutely woeful.
4. Dillon Powers and 18. Callum Butcher – For me the most important part of any team should be either your fullbacks or your central midfield. Unfortunately we are currently caught in a cycle of two central players both trying to do very similar things and it not working. Butcher is more aggressive and does try to get forward but both he and Powers are really guilty of playing it far too safe. It is a constant barrage of five yard meaningless passes and with Powers it is even more evident. I liked the look of him in early games but he really needs to work on passing forward and between the lines. Receiving the ball, turning sideways and recycling possession through the defenders is not helping anyone and is certainly not helping my blood pressure. It might not be their fault, it might be the instructions Neilson gives them, but either way it isn’t working.
23. Ian Harkes – I had sympathy for Harkes last night, given the role he had. Neilson really shoehorned him into a position that was always going to expose Harkes and it badly did at times. We still haven’t seen a run of positive performances from our original Captain America, but I still have hope that he can develop and make an impact on a more regular basis.
8. Peter Pawlett – A strange one. I made a joke earlier about his fitness and that was an issue during the first half, however he did actually complete a 90 minutes last night and that must be possibly the first ever? If not, it is certainly a rare, rare occurrence. Guilty of the same condition Robson had last night, he got into decent spaces but his final pass was terrible.
14. Rakish Bingham – I will always remain on the bench with any new signing until they have been given a few games. He showed a bit of pace and some brief moments of decent hold up play but it was a frustrating night for him, maybe not helped by the service and the disappointing night for Shankland.
24. Lawrence Shankland – He is still the main man but this was a match to forget. His hold up play, something that can go unnoticed, was very poor and his finishing touch deserted him despite being given two or three little half chances.
3. Adrian Sporle – Just the one last night and I am sorry to say that everyone’s favourite Argentinian soft spot was pretty guff when he came on. Our left hand side seemed to be infected with (and I hate myself for typing this) ‘cannaekickaball-itis’. Eurgh.
Man Of The Match –
Talking Tactics –
A 442 that was too lopsided and ineffective. Yes we had lots of the ball and we ended up with a hundred corners but we just did not do enough. Neilson gave his post-match interview and suggested that we had played “really well” but I will put that down to bravado with press more than anything else.
He will see a point as important, and maybe it might be, but yet again the fans don’t want to be watching this every week so can we please go back to some attacking and dynamic football at some point? My worry is that our system now becomes “let’s not lose” for the remainder of the season, rather than trying to entertain us on the way to the title.
The Positives –
Not much from last night. A clean sheet will please the defence but it is the other end that fans want to see more from.
Need To Work On –
Bringing back a bit of that spark we had in the opening few months. Things have stagnated and despite our healthy lead we are beginning to just plod along. It isn’t great to watch and some teams will punish us for our complacency. The league could be over if we put together another four or five wins.
Can we just get on with it please?
Up Next –
Another Friday night extravaganza!!! Will we again try to ‘not lose’? Will we again see multiple defensive midfielders all doing the same thing? Will we successfully complete a cross? You’ll find out as United take on Inverness at Tannadice.
My blog may or may not be with you next week. Friday is moving day and although the important things are booked in for that afternoon (Sky TV and Broadband) it might be that time gets away from us and/or the internet is delayed depending on all the different house moving day factors at play. I mean, I will be at the match, this is non-negotiable, but as far writing the blog – that might be put on hold.
Have a great weekend folks!