Before we begin…
On Thursday evening the club launched this season’s away kit – manufactured by Macron. For weeks people had been dropping hints that the new away shirt might be purple and that we would use this as an opportunity to establish a relationship with Alzheimer Scotland. For once, rumours about Dundee United turned out to be true…
As someone who has had direct experience of this truly awful disease I must applaud the club with this new partnership. Anything to raise awareness or money to help people affected by Alzheimer’s gets a huge thumbs up from me. If you want to do a bit of further reading on the subject then you can head to the Alzheimer Scotland website – link
As for the shirt itself? Personally I don’t particularly like the added tangerine (bit it looked great yesterday). Without the tangerine trim and central block you are left with just the purple and black which, in my opinion, would have improved the design. It has divided our support, with some absolutely loving this bold new look. Some hate it, and ‘wacky’ design concepts will always divide, but aesthetically it doesn’t really matter given the symbolic nature of the kit. It is a combination of colours that will have people talking, which of course is the whole point. My only, very slight, criticism might be the lack of the Alzheimer Scotland logo itself. I know our shirt is full of sponsors but could the charity’s symbol have been incorporated into the design in some way?
I had conversations with a few people last weekend about how unusual it felt watching Sportscene and Sky Sports knowing that games in the top-flight now have a direct impact on us. Don’t get me wrong, it is a brilliant feeling, but it has been so long since we’ve featured on the Sportscene title page or in the ‘Premiership’ section of the newspapers that last weekend all felt a bit strange.
During previous seasons I spent so much time trying to find pieces of statistical analysis on opponents and match reports that it was sometimes impossible to pin down certain pieces of information to use in my blog. Being in the Championship meant basically no media coverage. Now? It is all there and we are back in amongst the ‘mainstream’ (although Sky Sports did get both our ground and founding year wrong during the first run-through of their new TV graphics, plus yesterday they had James McPake as our manager – standard).
As Saturday led into Sunday (that’s how days work) I think that most of us had probably watched back the key moments of the St.Johnstone match quite a few times. Again, part of being back in the Premiership is that we now have our goals and highlights on tap.
Once the dust had settled on the opening fixture I think most of would still look back and conclude that it was definitely a case of two points dropped. The good news? There were definitely more than a few positives to take from the match.
For game two we turn our attention to Fir Park. If you had tuned in to the Ross County game on Monday you would be forgiven in thinking that Motherwell were not one of the bigger hitters in this division but they very much are, despite their tame showing in Dingwall.
As for our own build-up, Thursday and Friday brought us a bit of a curveball in the shape of the Aberdeen Covid-19 fiasco and the postponement of their fixture. I wrote in my season preview that I felt astonished that the SPFL and SFA felt that an entire domestic season could be played uninterrupted. Now here we are, barely a week in.
The only immediate impact on United (and it turned out to be a bit of ‘fake news’) was the supposed moving of our own fixture to a 12:30 kick-off and for Sky to show our game as a replacement for the St.Johnstone v Aberdeen fixture. Thankfully (given I had literally just purchases a £12 PPV ticket) this was not the case.
Sorry to do this to you all once more, but for a look back against Motherwell we again have to travel to the relegation season and to March 2016.
Another ‘Previous Meeting’ and another defeat. Despite a fabulous Henri Anier strike in the 21st minute, United lost 2-1 in the pouring rain, in front of a very strong travelling support. Like last week you can view the goals below, but if you are still suffering from a bit of post-relegation traumatic stress, I understand if you want to give this a miss.
Our starting eleven that night featured probably the worst goalie we’ve ever had (he sits alongside Lance Key and Matej Rakovan in my own top three).
With Kawashima unavailable and Luis Zwick injured we were left with Michal Szromnik. An absolute disaster of a goalkeeper.
The full team from that 2-1 defeat –
Michal Szromnik, Gavin Gunning, Callum Morris, Coll Donaldson, Paul Dixon, Paul Paton, John Rankin, Blair Spittal, Billy Mckay, Henri Anier, Ryan Dow.
In the run up to this match we bolstered our defensive options with the signing of Ryan Edwards. The giant central defender arrived from Blackpool and adds depth to an area we definitely needed to strengthen. Would he start against Motherwell? Would we again see young Lewis Neilson? Would we be playing with a 532/352 for the second week in a row?
Well, before get into it, I must warn you. The word ‘confidence‘ will be used A LOT in this match review (and subsequent sections).
The first mention of the word confidence relates to the team news published just after 2pm yesterday. No Shankland, no Edwards debut, no Nicky Clark in the starting eleven. Some started to panic. Why? Well because despite us winning the league last year and approaching the Premiership with a bit of excitement, we still actually do lack a bit of internal confidence. Out initial instinct when we see a star player missing or a strange line-up is to worry, and that is understandable given the last four or five years. Bizarre team sheets have not, in recent seasons, ended up with us all thinking – “well, the manager knows best and I’m sure he can get the most out of his players’. The world’s worst player selection tombola has ruined our weekends on more than a few occasions.
Hopefully, that is all about to change…
What. A. Result.
Securing our first win of the season, especially with it coming away to a side like Motherwell feels FANTASTIC. It also gets us to 4 points out of 6 and it starts breeding this week’s magic word….confidence. Most importantly for me it starts to bring back trust in the manager and bring back that internal reassurance in the squad of players we have.
United fans through no fault of their own have been conditioned, due to our recent footballing traumas, to assume the worst when the manager springs a surprise or two. Well, now things are different. We seem to have a manager who can anticipate a situation and adapt to change. Mellon’s brand of management is all about trusting players and giving them belief. It is also all about being flexible enough so that you can utilise an entire squad, in multiple different ways and across many different scenarios. It might mean more surprises in personnel or the sudden emergence of a youth player (this week Logan Chalmers) but that is a good thing when you have a manager who does it with purpose and control. Personally what I want to take most out of yesterday is the development of that long missed, nice, confident feeling you get when you can trust your manager.
The game as a spectacle wasn’t up to a huge amount in the first half. We also experienced the most infuriating out of sync commentary which made it difficult to relax and follow the game. It isn’t anyone’s fault, these things happen, but it meant a decision in my house to watch the game in absolute silence (which is very, very odd).
United started a little nervy on the ball but we were playing with a physical intensity that is something we are now going to see every week with this side. It was definitely the case that Motherwell had most of the play and with us maybe lacking a bit of courage in possession it meant a few stray long-balls up to an isolated Appere.
Despite the opening 45 not producing any goals we can claim the best chance of the half when Luke Bolton was released just a few yards from goal. Rather than play it across the goalkeeper to either score or force a parry, he put it into the side netting. As for our defence and Benji? A few burst of heavy pressure in and around our box but to be honest our goalkeeper didn’t have much to do.
The second-half was brilliant. We seemed to grow and grow in….confidence. Suddenly the players looked like they wanted to prove that they could not only compete but go on and claim superiority over their opponents. Passes were sharp and the team started to edge forward. It forced Motherwell back and it made them very ragged. Truth be told I was very underwhelmed by the Fir Park side over the 90, despite all of their talent and attacking threat. That’s two games in a row where they have looked a shadow of the side they probably should be. But that isn’t our concern.
Once Mark Reynolds scored we simply turned up the pressure and held our shape. From that moment on, bar a few long throw-ins and late corners, we didn’t really look like losing. Indeed we should have scored at least one more goal, with Dillon Powers, hitting an absolute screamer off the bar after the goalkeeper managed to somehow get fingertips to his effort.
It was a controlled and assured performance. A confident display that lifts players and fans. It is also they type of performance that we will need to replicate a few times this season. These victories help the strengthening of our trust in the players and it goes down as a Mellon masterclass in team selection and tactical balance.
1.Benji Siegrist – Big Benji will be wondering what the fuss is all about in the Premiership. That’s 180 minutes of top-flight football and apart from a few routine saves across both games, he hasn’t really been under periods of sustained pressure. Leathered the ball out of the park a few times with goal-kicks, maybe because he was a bit bored.
2. Liam Smith – Very solid and dependable, did his job perfectly well and never looked in any trouble defensively.
5. Mark Connolly – Delighted for Connolly yesterday. Much maligned after his sclaff against St.Johnstone, yesterday he was defensively faultless.
6. Mark Reynolds – The goal scoring hero! Lawrence who? Like Connolly he was very, very impressive defensively, dealing with everything and anything Motherwell tried to do.
17. Jamie Robson – Two games in and Jamie Robson is looking every bit the Premiership left-back. Again plenty of energy and again a very strong defensive showing against different types of threat given that Motherwell swapped out their wide players on a few occasions.
18. Callum Butcher – If you are squeamish don’t look at his Instagram page. In the second-half Butcher was on the receiving end of a tackle that VAR may have seen as a red card but he stayed on to keep fighting. Still maybe a tad off the pace with his tackling again yesterday (a few fouls early on), but he did a very solid job in that holding role.
20. Luke Bolton – Busy and bustling he is the type of player I have a huge amount of time for given that he is happy to get stuck in whilst also having an attacking threat. His low centre of gravity allows him to wriggle past defenders. Nearly scored his first goal for the club and got the assist for the winner.
23. Ian Harkes – Astonishing fitness levels from Harkes. I would like to see his GPS tracker from the first-half in particular, he was everywhere. Seems to be loving this new freedom and his fitness level is such a fantastic asset.
8. Peter Pawlett – Can the real Peter Pawlett please stand up? Is this the same guy? Yesterday we again witnessed another very energetic performance. Long may the rebirth of Peter Pawlett continue.
15. Logan Chalmers – A surprise starter but fantastic to see him get a chance in the top-flight. Didn’t look out of place and he clearly has great technique. Will be fascinating to see his development over through the season ahead.
27. Louis Appere – We didn’t get any King Louis action last week but yesterday he was given the lone striker role. He did well with the limited supply in the first-half but like others he grew into the game in the second-half. Good to see him get 90 minutes of Premiership football.
11. Cammy Smith – More minutes for Smith and another positive appearance for him.
3. Adrian Sporle – Another who missed out last week but yesterday it was really encouraging to see Mellon turn to players like Sporle. Played very well and showed us all the great technique we know he has.
10. Nicky Clark – A very professional appearance, using all of his experience to help us see the game out.
4. Dillon Powers – I like Powers. He maybe isn’t as mobile or energetic as Harkes or Butcher but his technical ability and composure on the ball I think can be a real asset in the right system. He was the perfect fit for what we needed in the final 20 minutes and he nearly scored an absolute thunderbastard.
Yesterday was such a positive group display that it feels a little harsh speaking about individuals, but I will…
There is an argument that we could hand out a joint award to our two central defenders. They get a bit of a hard time sometimes and often I think it is unfair given their careers and the number of games both have played. In Connolly and Reynolds we have two very experienced defenders who do lack a yard of acceleration and technique on the ball at times, but in games where crosses and throw-ins are flying into the box then you need players to defend in a combative way. They give you that.
Two others really stood our for me yesterday. I thought that Ian Harkes covered an astonishing amount of ground in the first-half. His ability to just be everywhere was really impressive and quite often he would be the one closing down a Motherwell defender before then moments later being on the edge of our own box blocking a shot. This season could be the making of Harkes.
The other, and the one who gets the nod for the second week in a row is Jamie Robson. It has been a rollercoaster United career for Robson and he is someone who many doubted would last this long at Tannadice. I know I was very critical of him during the early seasons in the Championship but his development over the last 18 months has been really impressive. Yesterday again he looked like a Premiership footballer. Despite the number of games Robson has now played I have been guilty of maybe still always viewing him as very young and inexperienced. Not now.
An observation on constant repeat at the moment is the philosophy Micky Mellon has for changing systems. He always talks about ‘questions’ and yesterday again he commented on the types of questions he felt Motherwell were going to ask us. It sounds simple but the game of football does boil down to the asking and answering of questions over the 90 minutes.
Shaping up as a 4141 yesterday we anticipated the question being – “Can you handle wide pressure from Motherwell?” – We answered that with an emphatic yes.
The supplementary question was then – “Can you hit Motherwell on the break and get them turned?” – That answer wasn’t maybe as empathic, and in the first 45 we didn’t maybe get in behind as often as we would have liked. That then changed after the break.
Although we did use a 4141 it felt like we were swapping in and out of different roles, giving our players a bit of freedom to take responsibility. A few times in the first-half Harkes would be the one charging down the defenders, which mean Appere would briefly take his place in the middle. The same thing also happened with Chalmers and Pawlett. It shows that Mellon is giving over responsibility and expects everyone to do their job whilst also then having everyone understand that they need to cover their teammates and take part in different elements of the game.
Once the game opened up in our favour it felt like the flat four in the middle were all taking up much more advanced roles, so that it looked a little bit more like a 433 when we got things going. Again this ability to change and be flexible is a huge plus point.
Tactically we got it spot on and it leads us back to the word of the week…confidence. We need to trust in Mellon and in the players. Yesterday helped facilitate that.
If the line-up against Hibs on Tuesday is different once again then we will not be panicking or worrying, we will simply now say – “In Mellon we trust”. That is massive. Mellon’s challenge is for that to now be our default position. If fans can feel confident in their manager then it makes the whole experience much more positive and relaxed, especially during the long and hard season we all anticipate. There will be slip ups, there will be defeats, but that internal confidence in the manager is very reassuring.
Yesterday was another 90 minutes of physically engaging football and I have been thrilled at the pressing and aggression we have seen under Mellon. It is this brand of football that we all want from a United team and it is something we have all sorely missed.
The longer this section remains blank, the better…
“We are Dundee United” – Micky Mellon
I want to make a point here but this is a bit of a ramble – I watched a film on Friday night and during one scene, the main character, a man with low self-esteem and a lack of confidence needs to impress on someone who sits at a much higher ‘table’ in society (I make it sound all very serious, the film wasn’t. At all.)
The point I want to make here is that a friend of this low self-esteem guy tells him to repeat over and over again that he is ‘worthy’. It is a visualisation technique often used in Psychology. Anyway…
Yesterday Micky Mellon said, over and over in his press interviews – “we are Dundee United”. It is something he said probably hundreds of times since his arrival. He is projecting the club’s history and identity on to everyone, giving us all….confidence. He has continually talked about how good the players are, how good the club is, how proud we all need to be. This then makes us as fans feel all warm and fuzzy inside and it helps repair a bit of the damage we have all internally suffered from since our club was dismantled back in February 2015. It has been a long, long road but very quickly Micky Mellon has become that reassuring friend who tells you how good you are and that you have worth. What he now seems to be doing is projecting that onto the players, building their self-worth and confidence. The early signs are that this is working and that his payers believe in him, but more importantly they believe in themselves.
Post-match we were all cock-a-hoop with such a big win, and we all still are. Secretly our manager will have been the same but publicly he simply stated that this kind of result needs to become the norm and needs to become what we “expect”. We need to go to places like Fir Park and play with confidence. We need to see ourselves as a Premiership club with high expectations of ourselves. Why? Because at the end of the day…
“We are Dundee United”
The tough fixtures continue, this time at home against Hibernian on Tuesday evening (the game is live on Sky Sports).
Just a few seasons ago they shared the stage with us in the Championship but since winning the league in 2016/17 the Easter Road club have been another success story, similar to Motherwell.
In terms of their off-field development and the strengthening of their club identity you can look towards Hibernian (again like Motherwell) and see elements that we would like to emulate over the next few years.
This is the first full season in charge for Jack Ross and they have made some very strong signings this summer. The arrival of one-time United target Kevin Nisbet is probably their headline transfer but they have also added Alex Gogic (also briefly linked with us) and former St.Johnstone winger Drey Wright.
Although Hibs lost a number of players – most notably Marc McNulty, Stephane Omeonga, and Greg Docherty – Jack Ross should be happy with his strength and depth. Like Motherwell you would imagine Hibs will also be targeting the title of ‘best of the rest’ come the end of the season.
Another middle to front Premiership side with a number of different options going forward, Hibernian are very much of the opinion that playing with attacking intent will win you games of football. You can see similarities between the way Hibs play and the St.Mirren system Jack Ross won the Championship with. Pace and final-third attacking overloads are a regular occurrence in the Hibs system under Ross.
From watching Hibs against Kilmarnock and Livingston you can see that like United, Hibs are mixing things up tactically. They played with a 352 in their opening game against Killie but switched to a 442 for yesterday’s empathic win against Livingston.
Players that could cause us problems would include yesterday’s hat-trick hero Kevin Nisbet but in terms of overall play there are two I want to highlight. Former United youth player and eternal journeyman Scott Allan is undoubtedly a fantastic footballer who can unlock games with a wonderful range of passing. He seems at home with Hibs more than any other side in his career, meaning he is now showing his best. Then we have Martin Boyle. A player who was distinctly average during his three year spell with Dundee, Boyle is now one of the league’s most consistent forward players and he is someone who can operate in different positions across the final third. He is also absolutely rapid, something our current defensive players always seem to struggle with.
In many ways the game against Hibernian is a cut, copy and paste of our Motherwell test. Like Motherwell, Hibs will aim to put us under long spells of pressure (although hopefully they are as toothless as Motherwell). It is once again the type of battle that Mellon will relish and with 4 points on the board we should approach the game with real…..(you can fill in the blank)
St.Johnstone P – P Aberdeen (Postponed – Players Being Tubes)
Hamilton 0 – 1 Ross County
Livingston 1 – 4 Hibernian
Motherwell 0 – 1 Dundee United
Rangers v St.Mirren (Sunday)
Kilmarnock v Celtic (Sunday)
Midweek Fixture – w/c 10th August
Dundee United vs Hibernian (18:00 – Sky Sports)
St.Mirren v Celtic (18:00 – Sky Sports)
Aberdeen v Hamilton (19:45)
Motherwell v Livingston (19:45)
Rangers v St.Johnstone (19:45)
Ross County v Kilmarnock (19:45)
For the second week in a row, let’s sign off with some brilliant music. United fan and musician Joshua Grant yesterday launched ‘Tangerine Blood’ and you can view the fantastic video (produced by Yanniss Marr and ‘OurDUFC‘) below.
Oh, and this week’s blog was brought to you by the the word of the week…