They say that moving house is one of the most stressful things that you will ever have to do in life. Well, having endured the last few seasons at Tannadice I found last Friday an absolute breeze and here I am once again.
Football hasn’t been on my mind in the last week but now that normality is returning it is time to turn my attention towards one of my favourite away trips – Dunfermline.
It hit me yesterday morning that this could be the last visit to East End Park for a while so I wanted to savour the day. Early start in the pub? Check. My PTSD (Post-Turnstile Stress Disorder) of not getting my assigned seat? Check. Getting in far too early to quietly watch on in glee as others had to endure the social awkwardness of – “sorry, this is my seat”, “well the stewards just said sit anywhere”? Check. Steak Bridies? Absolutely check (although, one of the discoveries near our new house is that the Co-Op at Panmurefield Village has started to use the same supplier as Dunfermline and they have Steak Bridies on their menu. Jackpot.)
A couple of weeks ago I mentioned that Alloa away summed up many of the negatives related to our time in the Championship. Well, on a more positive note, Dunfermline away has probably been the most consistently enjoyable trip and it is one that I would imagine many fans will miss once we achieve promotion. The results have always been decent at East End Park but over and above that we always seem to take a great support and the trip becomes very much a day out for the fans. We’ve also witnessed a Fyvie screamer, some resounding wins and a Cammy Bell triple penalty save. If it was up to me then I wouldn’t mind Dunfermline ending up in the Premiership with us, it is very much in my top 2 or 3 away grounds.
So, with all those niceties out of the way and after a huge win over Inverness, could United turn in one final East End Park performance before heading back up?
Surely they would?
Before we get started, time for this (now semi-regular) disclaimer –
What follows is a meandering rant about yesterday’s 90 minutes, it is NOT a reflection of our season as a whole and it is NOT a post aimed at making sweeping statements about players or the ‘bigger picture’.
For the millionth time this season – It is okay to be happy at where we are as a club also okay to be unhappy/angry/scunnered about a singular performance or run of performances.
This is still the greatest club in the world but it is okay to call the team shite when they are.
Now, let’s get going.
What an absolute disaster of a 90 minutes. A complete and utter shambles of a display and one that ended with me leaving early which is a very, very rare occurrence. It was really, really, really bad.
United started the game without Callum Butcher and most fans probably started to feel anxious about how the middle two of Harkes and Powers would cope without the combative Butcher. Unfortunatley, almost immediately, our fears were realised. The real issues in the opening stages yesterday were pretty obvious, we just couldn’t get hold of the ball and keep it. We also had two players who really needed a big 90 minutes but just couldn’t get to grips with the game. I really want to like both Harkes and Powers but I always feel that a true test of a player is how they respond to a challenge (in this case not having the protection of Butcher). Both failed unfortunately.
I mentioned on Twitter that the performance ended up being so poor that it fell below our usual “well we did at least control the game, we just couldn’t break them down”. It was as abject as you will see in terms of possession control and our team looked so disjointed that it felt like we could have played for 4 hours and not get any joy. Honestly it felt a little bit like a mid-July pre-season game with some players meeting each other for the first time and everyone being short of match sharpness. Dunfermline didn’t even have to lift themselves and I would only rate their performance as a 5 or 6 out of 10, which maybe shows just how poor we were.
When you watch a team who’s passing game is way off the mark you maybe start to think to yourself that things might be okay if at least they end up kicking the shit out of the opposition or make things difficult by being rigid and holding a proper structure. Well, we couldn’t even do that. Physically Dunfermline were far superior and at times our shape fell apart when we were defending.
What makes a game like yesterday even worse can be broken down into three categories –
Taking such a big crowd always makes the day seem more special. This fixture is the perfect example of a real football ‘away day’ and for many it is maybe the only away trip they make. It is also close enough that most fans make the effort to travel early, meet up with friends and enjoy a few drinks before hand. Pre-match you always enjoy looking around and seeing people enjoy themselves and the relaxed mood amongst the fans on a day like this is really enjoyable. All the more disappointing then, when you make all that effort and it quickly falls apart.
We all want to win the league but do it in style. At the same time there is always a little bit of nagging doubt at the back of our minds due to the trauma United have put us through in recent season. We have ten games left so it will only take a few more wins but yesterday highlighted yet again that any team in this league can turn us over if we are not at our best and they sense that we are struggling.
It is only natural that fans begin to dream about the future. For us it is all about mentally preparing for what comes next season if we are in the Premiership. Some fans are beginning to think about the viability of Neilson as manager, and some are thinking about the shape of the squad and the players we have. Yesterday makes this process much worse because on the 90 minutes at East End Park you naturally start to think of the worst case scenarios and I did hear a few shouts that suggested how quickly we might return to the Championship if we don’t address some of the issues we have. I am sure we will but it still makes you a bit anxious.
Overall I think that fans (and I m very much in this frame of mind) want to see their team play with a swagger and a sense of “we are the best in this league”, because we are. Recently we have started to trip and slip which means we as supporters start to feel a bit lethargic when thinking about the remaining fixtures. It isn’t helped by the stubbornness of our team selections and the negativity of our play. We have worked hard to be in a position where we can experiment a bit more with team selections and fans would understand if we lost but maybe tried something different and gave some other players a start. Let’s have a go, lets give some younger players a chance to shine. If it doesn’t work then try something else.
I said to someone next to me yesterday at half-time that here is no point in coming back for the second half and just playing the same way. I’m sure most fans would understand if we still lost but at least had a go. Supporters get behind their team when they know that the players are involved in a combative, energetic game of football, even if it ends in defeat.
We cannot win every game but if we do lose, then maybe let’s lose 3-2 and leave knowing that we at least gave it a right good go, the players got stuck in but maybe we were a bit unlucky in the end. Not competing is unacceptable, and to say otherwise is wrong. Yesterday we didn’t compete and it is as simple as that.
We’re still in a good place, we will still more than likely win the league and we will still all be up for Tuesday and the games remaining, but give us something to get excited about each week and make the run-in a bit more engaging please?
Player Ratings –
1. Benjamin Siegrist – Meh
2. Liam Smith – Crap
5. Mark Connolly – Guff
44. Paul Watson – Awful
17. Jamie Robson – Jobbies
4. Dillon Powers – Terrible
27. Louis Appere – Déchets
23. Ian Harkes – Toilet
8. Peter Pawlett – Woeful
14. Rakish Bingham – Loupin
24. Lawrence Shankland – Anonymous
3. Adrian Sporle – Mierda
7. Paul McMullan – Okay
21. Declan Glass – Average
Man Of The Match –
You are joking, right?
For Dunfermline it would have been the wee ball boy who got lost several times under the big ‘EAST END PARK – THIS IS WHERE LEGENDS ARE MADE’ banner trying to find the ball. Top shitehousery from the wee man, even if he didn’t mean it.
For us it has to be the support who were let down badly by the players. An amazing turnout yet again and a true reflection of where we are in terms of fan unity and the club positivity (even if the 90 minutes were awful). Hats off to all of you wonderful fellow Arabs!
Talking Tactics –
We started with a 442 but that only lasted a few minutes before it ended up more like the 4231 we are used to seeing. The issue became the fact that the sitting two weren’t really doing much of anything. They were not aggressive enough to bresk up the play but they also weren’t dynamic enough to spot any through passes or attacking options. We also had one ‘winger’ in Bingham who doesn’t look too comfortable attacking a fullback and taking people on. Furthermore Pawlett became anonymous in the 10 role and drifted out the game completely (he wasn’t really even ‘in’ the game to begin with either).
This all left Shankland so isolated upfront that he could have genuinely walked along the Halbeath Road, gone for a pint in the Elizabethan (that’s if he managed to get served by the two bar staff) before then heading back without anyone really noticing he had gone.
The Positives –
Slim pickings here. Even the huge turnout ended up being pummelled into submission by the performance which left the atmosphere pretty flat and frustrating.
The bridies were a bit cold as was the weather and the day ended up being a waste of time.
So, in short, nothing.
Actually, leaving a few minutes early meant we avoided the worst of the traffic, so there is that.
Need To Work On –
I’m not entirely sure where to begin with this. At times this year our systems and performance levels have been nowhere near good enough and despite our lead at the top it leaves us all a bit anxious as to what comes next year. I’ve covered most of what I want to say so I won’t keep going on about it but I do worry that this is going to be a limp finish as things stand, which would be a huge disappointment given the early season form.
We should still get there but it might be more of a whimper than a bang.
Up Next –
Well I for one cannot wait until Tuesday night and for a short trip to Somerset. Right now I am still feeling a massive sense of disappointment and I have just had that conversation with my wife about Tuesday (it mainly consisted her of saying “are you sure you want to go?” over and over again). The truth is I honestly cannot help myself, so despite my current state of mind I will definitely be making the journey and hoping for much better than yesterday. Ayr United away on a Tuesday night? Yes please.
We usually perform so well at Somerset anyway….
Alloa Athletic 0 – 2 Ayr United
Dundee P – P Arbroath
Dunfermline 2 – 0 Dundee United
Queen of the South 0 – 4 Greenock Morton