SPFL votes, more SPFL votes, dodgy emails, leaked WhatsApp messages, court cases, arbitrations and 6954 club statements. With all of that out of the way…
We are finally here and the day is upon us.
We. Are. Back
Are we all prepared? Well, we’ve had nearly five months of sitting about so I hope so! This continues to be the strangest of times and we are all desperately missing our normal matchday experience but it is impossible not to get excited about the start of a new season, especially one that sees us return to the Premiership. Feels good saying that, doesn’t it? I’ll say it again…Premiership.
I don’t want to give over too much space to the start of this season (after all, I did write a preview that you can find here), but I do want to again say how brilliant all the fans have been at keeping the mood up, especially in the last week or so. Everyone has done a wonderful job at helping build the excitement ahead of our first game.
We have all been won over by our new manager and it is now time for Micky Mellon to build the Dundee United he wants us to have – a group of hard working players and a team on the pitch that we can all be proud of. It will not be easy and it might take time but we are all right behind the players and staff. Truth be told I’m a bit nervous about the content within some of my posts this year, it is going to be a very tough campaign and I might find myself writing plenty of blogs post-defeat this season. As long as we can see continued improvement and a United side that is willing to fight and work hard then we will all be pretty happy.
The question on everyone’s mind pre-match ahead of the opener against St.Johnstone was probably not football related but technology related. Would the match stream work? Would the broadcast be stable enough to cope with the demand? Would DUTV and the new team give us a ‘Premiership’ product?
Only one way to find out…
Scottish Premiership 2020/21. Here we go!
Actually, before that…
I thought that one good addition to these blogs might be a look back at our opponents and when we last faced them. During the season it might give an idea as to how we adapt and hopefully improve against each team.
Unfortunately to begin with this means putting you all through some mental torture. Given that we last kicked a Premiership football in 2016 this will be a bit of a slog for the duration of the first game cycle. We have faced a couple of Premiership opponents in different cup competitions but most of these brief recaps will unfortunately be a look back at a time when we were very, very shit (and that is being generous).
Not this week though!
Unbelievably we actually WON the last time we played St.Johnstone! Yes, after Tommy Wright basically dominating Dundee United for what felt like an eternity we somehow fumbled our way to a victory on the 2nd of April 2016. Three points were secured by Ryan Dow scoring one of the worst goals you are likely to ever see. It gave us a little bit of hope but we then lost three Premiership games on the bounce and our fate was pretty much sealed.
The line-up that day? Take a look at this…
Eiji Kawashima, Kyle Knoyle, Callum Morris, Coll Donaldson, Gavin Gunning, Paul Paton, John Rankin, Guy Demel, Ryan Dow, Billy McKay and the Estonian legend Henri Anier.
If you have forgotten Dow’s absolute screamer, or you just want to watch it again…
Now for the important bit.
Everyone was keen to see how Mellon would set out his side for the first competitive game of the campaign. We have been experimenting with different shapes during our pre-season friendlies and when the team was announced yesterday it was obvious that our years of watching 4231 every week were over…
Lining up with a 532 meant that we had to accommodate an additional defender and that job went to Lewis Neilson. The highly-rated teenager has been talked about quite a bit over the last twelve months so it was exciting to see him make his debut. It was of course a bit of a gamble but Mellon making that call shows that he is happy to not only trust our younger players but that he is willing to be flexible with systems. It must give our youth players confidence knowing that he is comfortable promoting players based on their application and hard work.
The game itself was a pretty scrappy affair to be honest. After a long period of not much football it was maybe a mixture of nervous energy and rustiness but early doors it was such a frantic pace that the ball seemed to be in the air or bobbling about for most of the time despite the perfect pitch. It was nice that United were keen to physically engage with St.Johnstone and I felt pretty pleased with the energy levels shown (even if the football wasn’t fantastic). Historically we always struggled to match the Perth side in certain elements of the more ‘industrious’ side of football but yesterday we coped well.
The new shape was also working for spells. Having both Robson and Smith operating in space whenever we had the ball meant the central defenders had an option for longer diagonals, with Robson in particular taking advantage of this. Despite the early positive play we did struggle to actually find Shankland into feet and he cut a frustrating figure at times. It fell to Clark, Harkes and Pawlett to do much of the attacking, with all three having positive moments on the ball in the first-half.
Securing the penalty, going a goal up and having Michael O’Halloran sent off for the Perth side was a fantastic way for us to start the season and truth be told it was actually a fairly comfortable first-half for Siegrist and the defence.
Early in the second 45 we put on the pressure to extend our lead but Shankland was guilty of wasting a couple of decent chances that you would normally back him to score. Unfortunately this was to cost us after a defensive lapse let Liam Craig wander into our box unmarked. Aided by a huge sliced clearance from Mark Connolly, Craig’s ferocious drive hitting the back of the net introduced a very nervy period for us.
After conceding an equaliser to 10 men you would always hope for a reaction but to be honest the goal gave St.Johnstone real confidence and we looked lost for a worrying spell of about 10-15 minutes. Suddenly our shape fell apart and they played with a higher tempo that we really didn’t enjoy.
We did eventually settle back down after a shift in system (and the introduction of Luke Bolton) but we didn’t have much left in the tank. It was a fairly tepid finale to the opening fixture and despite a couple of decent half chances late on, we needed to settle for a point.
On its own the result is a maybe disappointment given the individual moments across the 90 minutes. Losing a lead in the fashion we did, and against 10 men is never something you want to see. Maybe in the context of opening day and the return to the Premiership it is something we can take as a helpful lesson and valuable point to get us off the mark but as footballers the United players will know that this was a missed opportunity.
I have a very cautious brain when it comes to all things United so I guess the anxious part of my mind now turns to Motherwell away and Hibs at home. Looking at these first three games, yesterday might have been our most ‘obvious’ opportunity for three points. The dropped points maybe turn the next two games into slightly more pressurised fixtures but the season is only 90 minutes old and we managed to avoid defeat on the opening day. Having a draw in the bank is something to work with and yesterday will have taught the players a good lesson with regards to the step up in opposition.
So, a point to get us going in the league but in slightly disappointing circumstances given that we could have (and maybe should have) seen the game out.
1.Benji Seigrist – Our goalkeeper was relatively quiet for much of the game but he made one or two very important saves during that spell after the St.Johnstone equaliser.
2. Liam Smith – Big role in this new system. Smith seemed to enjoy the dual responsibility of having to both attack and defend. Will be interesting to see how both he and Robson develop if we continue with wing-backs.
30. Lewis Neilson – What a day for the youngster. No doubt he would have preferred it to have been at a packed Tannadice but he should be very proud of himself on his debut. Hopefully a long and successful career ahead.
5. Mark Connolly – Post-match I read on Twitter the line – ” the life of a central defender” and I couldn’t agree more. It really was one of those days for Connolly as for 99.9% of the game he was solid and fairly comfortable. Then one moment changes all of that…
6. Mark Reynolds – Assured, composed and defensively sound. He will have been really pleased with his performance on his return to the top-flight.
17. Jamie Robson – A really important year for Robson (more on that later). Like Smith he was given the job of wing-back and he did very, very well in this role, especially during the first-half.
23. Ian Harkes – The first thing you noticed yesterday (apart from his hair), was the confidence in Harkes to get much further forward, something we all want to see. Some nice give-and-go moments with neat touches in the final third, but he drifted in and out of the game
18. Callum Butcher – A very mixed bag for Butcher who was his usual physical self but in a ‘messy’ kind of way. He didn’t really have much control in the middle. With both Harkes and Pawlett pressing forward he needed to be the glue in the middle but looked a bit lost at times (both he and Harkes allowed Craig into the box unmarked for the equaliser).
8. Peter Pawlett – How often have we seen Peter Pawlett play a full 90 minutes? I thought he looked a bit leaner and fitter yesterday, which can only be a good thing. One or two moments of the quality that he is capable of but in Pawlett-esque fashion he also fell out of the game for long spells. Hopefully he can stay fit.
10. Nicky Clark – It is great to see Clark back after his horrific injury. Grabbing his first ever Premiership goal will also give him huge confidence going forward. Wasn’t a massive influence in the penalty box itself but a few link up moments reminded us that he could be an important player this year.
24. Lawrence Shankland – All eyes on Sir Lawrence as he makes the next step in his development. His first real season in the top-flight will be massive for him as an individual but also for us as a club. In truth it was a fairly forgettable day for our star man. His touch eluded him and he wasted a couple of good chances.
20. Luke Bolton – A promising debut. Didn’t see much of the ball when he initially came on but grew in confidence once he had taken the ball for a run or two. Likes to beat people and seems very quick over 10 yards.
11. Cammy Smith – Having been given a fresh start in pre-season he knows that this is his big chance with a new manager in charge. Didn’t get much time on the ball but could have scored a winner if not for a fantastic block by Jason Kerr.
15. Logan Chalmers – Someone else who will be keen to break into the team under Mellon after a frustrating loan spell at Arbroath. Didn’t have enough time to make an impact.
A solid enough team performance, even if we did let our lead slip. In terms of individuals it was a pretty obvious choice in the first-half but less so in the second. For me, Jamie Robson was very much our best player in the early stages and he seemed to relish his role of getting forward at every opportunity. Much like the rest of the team he took the foot off the gas as the game went on, but overall he would still be my man of the match across the 90 minutes.
It is a big year for Robson after playing so regularly in the Championship. He turns 23 this year and has the potential to hit about 150 appearances for United if he plays the majority of games this season. With that much experience he needs to now prove that he is ready for life in the Premiership. On yesterday’s showing he must be really pleased with his first game and it should give him confidence moving forward.
Watching your team play with a new shape is always interesting, especially if you have spent the last few years enduring the same formation week in, week out.
Our use of the 532 is something I would like to see more often. It is a system I have always liked if used well. If we do persist then it is obvious we need more central defenders to help with the cover in that area.
As a tactical shape you need to have two very fit and hard working wing-backs in a 532. Once you get that in place it should in theory then leave you well covered in the other areas because you have that spine of three central defenders, three central midfielders and a partnership of two forwards. Yesterday we did struggle to find Shankland at times because the space in the wide areas resulted in him not influencing play as much as he would have liked.
I’m happy to see us try new things and I have said before that I am keen to see Mellon use his reputation for being someone who changes shape quickly (although I was a little surprised at the lack of substitutions late in the game).
We looked pretty lost after St.Johnstone equalised but our switch to a flat four in defence helped with us in getting back a bit more control (although in the end it was too little too late).
It will be interesting to see what shape we use when we travel to Motherwell. You would probably have next week’s opponents as a different threat in terms of their direct attacking style and quick football. We might see a deeper shape from United away from home.
First and foremost, having the football back. After that – the technology worked, which was a massive relief to all of us! Also, the content on DUTV was good, although maybe the sound could have been better during the outside stuff with Alistair and Sean (they had to battle with seagulls for the right to be heard). It was really great to have United content before a TV game and given the focus on certain other clubs it is something that doesn’t happen very often, so keep it up guys and I am looking forward to seeing what else you have in store for us!
Talking of Sean Dillon, that was another positive. We all missed that smooth, smooth voice of his (if you made regular phone calls to Tannadice a few years back, then you know what I mean).
The stadium was also looking absolutely fantastic thanks to the display team and their wonderful work. It made us all miss the place even more but a huge thank you for the efforts in making the place look so stunning. It was also great to see all of the sponsors chip in and get some display stuff sorted. Alongside all of the fan flags they all now have really smart banners sitting in the stands to help Tannadice look the part in our absence.
On the pitch it was good to see a physical side to United and as a team we looked perfectly happy to get stuck in and press when needed. It was also a real treat (given the commentary complications) to hear Mellon constantly support the players from the touchline. He certainly isn’t an arms folded, standing still type of manager.
As an isolated result it was a bit of a missed opportunity but we did see enough on show to indicate that with a bit of work and a few additions we should be okay against a number of teams in this division.
A little rendition of Michael Marra’s ‘Hamish the Goalie‘ pre-match was also a welcome surprise.
It isn’t particularly fair to start the season with a negative vibe or a section on things we need to improve. It is far too early to really see any patterns emerge.
The only thing I will mention after yesterday might be the stark reminder, if we needed it, that in the Premiership we will always need to stay switched on. Out of nowhere we lost our lead yesterday and then for ten or so minutes after that we suddenly looked very fragile. This year will see us come under huge pressure in most of our games, so we need to be 100% focused.
It is also the case we need recruitments. If we are to use the three in the middle at the back then you are looking at maybe needing two additional players for that role. Remove Lewis Neilson (youth) and Callum Butcher (emergency) then you are left with just two senior central defenders.
So? Was it everything we all hoped it would be? A bit of a yes and no situation I think?
Fantastic to have football back, brilliant to be in the Premiership once again but a bit of a missed opportunity in terms of the result and a spell in the game where we lost our way.
As a matchday experience it was satisfying enough but of course it was not the same. The tech all worked and the content was good but I was on my sofa and nothing will replicate that feeling of being there in the stadium. If all fans were allowed in yesterday you would have seen a 10,000+ crowd easily, what with it being opening fixture, the lack of football, trophy and flag day, a good travelling support and the start of a Premiership campaign for the first time in a number of years. To not have that is always going to feel a little sad I suppose. One day…
With game one out of the way we now look ahead. It was exciting to see us yesterday. The build-up and anticipation felt great. Even whilst watching the Aberdeen v Rangers game earlier in the afternoon I found myself feeling really energised by the fact that these games now directly affect us once again. That’s a great thing and it is where we want to be.
We are here. We now need to stay here.
Next we travel to Fir Park. This game is available to fans via the Motherwell Pay-Per-View service and details (at some point) can be found here.
Since our relegation Motherwell have become a team that I find myself admiring on many different fronts. It is a model of club I positively identify with, looking at their development in recent years. I often think to myself that I would like United to have that same kind of progress in our next chapter. They are of course owned by the fans and a huge amount of work has gone on to re-invigorate the Motherwell brand in the local area and beyond. Their social media output was completely overhauled a number of seasons go and it continues to set a high bar when it comes to fan engagement.
As a socially conscious club they have also worked really hard to involve themselves in many different initiatives which includes their work to highlight Mental Health concerns. They should really be commended for their efforts in this area.
On the pitch they have themselves a passionate and enthusiastic manager who joined in February 2017. In Stephen Robinson they have someone who is now being consistently linked with other jobs and it is no surprise given that the Northern Irishman has guided his side to a Scottish Cup Final, a League Cup Final and a 3rd place finish in the league since his appointment.
Things haven’t been perfect under Robinson and his teams can sometimes swing wildly from long periods of fantastic form and then sudden blocks of poor results, but overall he has been a fantastic manager for Motherwell.
File this next game under “very challenging” but this is the type of fixture that sits in that area of where we want to be eventually. Ideally once we establish ourselves and move forward then you start to target this game as being a real indicator of our progress. It might be a game that comes a little early in our development under Mellon but it is absolutely the type of game the manager will relish, given that Motherwell sit right in the middle of the teams that aspire to be the ‘best of the rest’ come the end of the season. That will hopefully be our objective in the near future but it will be interesting to see how close we are this early.
In a normal world we would all be making the journey to sit in one of my favourite away stands (only when we are not put in the top tier). In the meantime I will have to settle for moving to the other end of the sofa, just to give me that real ‘away day’ feeling.
Aberdeen 0 – 1 Rangers
Dundee United 1 – 1 St.Johnstone
Hibernian 2 – 1 Kilmarnock
St.Mirren 1 – 0 Livingston
Celtic – Hamilton (Sunday)
Ross County – Motherwell (Monday)
Weekend – 8th/9th August
St.Johnstone v Aberdeen (12:30 – Sky Sports)
Hamilton v Ross County (15:00)
Livingston v Hibernian (15:00)
Motherwell v Dundee United (15:00)
Rangers v St.Mirren (15:00)
Kilmarnock v Celtic (16:30 – Sky Sports)
Inspired by yesterday, here is ‘Hamish the Goalie’…