This is the first of a new format for Perennial Underachievers.
The idea is that rather than produce individual weekly match reports, I will aim instead to put together a monthly review commenting on all things related to United. Ideally I would supplement this with one-off opinion pieces, or contructions from others, but we will start with the ‘United in Review’ monthly blog.
These monthly reflections will contain a mix of match analysis, result analysis and performance analysis but I also want to use it as an opportunity to comment on other matters connected to the club, and ultimately have a bit of ramble when needed. The plan is to publish these larger pieces on the last day of each month.
Of course, this first full summary should be one of the easier ones to do. Certainly from a footballing perspective I only have a few games to comment on, but this is also more of a blog setting the scene for this new format and maybe trying out some sections and headings that I will aim to use during 2021/22. The other element in this first post is the summation of pre-season as a whole and on the preparations for the new league campaign, which kicks off tomorrow against Aberdeen at Pittodrie. I can’t wait!
Hopefully I can maintain a mix of always being cautiously optimistic about our beloved club, but at the same time trying to be honest and critical when needed, in my appraisal of how things are going – both on and off the pitch. Remember, this is just one fan trying to give everyone something to read about our club.
It remains the case that supporting Dundee United is not the most straight forward of experiences, especially if like me you spend an awful lot of time on social media and reading online forums. Let’s be honest we all just desperately want to be in our seats watching football, spending time with friends, family and fellow supporters, but the uncertainty remains and in many ways the recent few weeks and online discussions have, within them, an undercurrent of everyone still trying to process the last 16 months and also the agitation that we all have in terms of just getting back to normal and into our footballing routines that we all miss so much.
Thankfully that all seems to be nearing the end, with the club confirming the return of fans in large numbers for the game against Rangers at Tannadice. At long last, we should all be back home together, after such a long wait.
Let’s crack on…
Let’s begin with the most straight forward of sections in this monthly review. After all it is rare that I will probably get to comment on the fact that we have won every single one of our games in a calendar month. Victories in the Premier Sports Cup have allowed us to maintain a 100% record under new manager Tam Courts. On paper, and looking in from the outside, you would see the results in the month of July for United and it looks like things are ticking along quite nicely early in the Courts era…
The caveat here is that the level of opposition is not what we will be up against in the league, and we were playing games at a time where all teams were getting to grips with pre-season fitness routines and trying to bed in new signings and systems (the same cannot necessarily be said for us…)
A regular debate online is the need for a balance between performances and results. It remains the case that it is perfectly fine to be quite satisfied and happy with results but also quite underwhelmed and constuctively critical by the level of performance.
This initial segment of the new monthly review will aim to purely talk about results, points totals, and in this case – progression in a cup, but it will not cover the performance level or the systems and tactics that we have used (that comes next).
So, the month of July from a results perspective? Pretty straightforward and pretty positive. Our reward for four wins out of four is a seeded away tie against Ayr United in a couple of weeks time. Hopefully we can use the seeding to our advantage and progress into the last eight (and with some United fans being allowed to make the journey to Somerset Park for a Pie & Chips from the wee van in the stand).
This is where things could get a little bit more complicated. United fans in the last few years have been bombarded with what could be described as ‘functional football’. One of the frustrations in the month of July under our new manager/new coaching team, has been the continuation of a brand of football that we are used to seeing. It is still very early under Courts and things may change, but we have seen largely a similar system and approach as we used with Micky Mellon last season (it is of course pretty much the same squad too). Regardless of who became the new manager at Tannadice, it is natural for us to hope for something a little bit different, and one criticism aimed at Micky Mellon was the lack of following through on a promise that we would witness bombastic, intensive, aggressive attacking football.
In the early interviews carried out by Courts he also started to talk about an attacking and more fluid style of play, so in some ways it’s the frustration that what we have seen in July is, by and large, a continuation of what we have been subjected to previously.
That being said we have seen some (very) brief glimpses of a slightly more flexible system and a move towards a 343 to supplement our 532/352. Truth be told it will only be a number of weeks into the league campaign that we can truly see if Courts has us playing with a different style, or that we see different approaches to certain matches and situations.
It is very clear that we will be using some kind of system that contains three central defenders and we have seen a slight variation in having five at the back or three at the back. As I might mention in a later section we are still missing players that would allow for more flexibility in whatever shape we do choose.
If we are to play a 532/352 then we miss some quality depth in the central midfield area but also in the front two. Alternatively we may use a 343 in some situations but as we all know, the lack of attacking width in the team from an out and out winger perspective is holding us back and is still an area that has not been addressed for a long, long time. Two quick and tricky wingers supplying Shankland, all of a sudden changes the dynamic of this squad completely.
Overall I would say that the performances are very much in the same bracket as what we have seen in recent seasons but we have at least managed to get results in a competition that we have struggled to get a grip of in these last few years. There is no doubt that the performance level has to be better when the league gets underway – we are heavily reliant on a very settled group of players and a handful of youngsters, so if levels are not lifted then ultimately it falls upon those in charge to take responsibility for not investing, as yet, in the squad this summer.
Much was made regarding our new managerial appointment and the process involved. I tried to reflect this in my season preview post a number of weeks ago, so what I want to try and do each month moving forward is instead comment more on the here and now – how the manager has conducted himself, adapted to results and changed the team regarding performances.
There is still a large amount of hesitancy regarding this new direction for the club and much like everything else it has been carried out in the context of such a turbulent time for all of us. For Courts and Asghar there is added pressure on them to not only get important results and improve on last season’s finish but also give starved supporters an opportunity to return to Tannadice and witness a team that we can be proud of.
With no live action for nearly all of us since March 2020, the fans deserve to return to a team that are giving us what we crave. It is the case that Asghar in particular, has nailed his colours to the mast and is pressing ahead with a new direction for United. This needs to land positively, otherwise it can’t just be the manager taking any future criticism if it begins to falter.
As for the month of July things have been pretty straight forward for the new manager. He has been conducting interviews both before and after games communicating in a relaxed manner with a 100% record. The next step involves us all being at games – because athough he has been relaxed, he is still operating in an environment without the majority of supporters in the same stadium, which brings its own challenge once the fans are making our voices heard, both positively and negatively.
We don’t yet know what kind of manager he might be when things are not going particularly well and how his language or demeanour may change if we, for example, have a poor run of results. Equally, sad as it may be, I’m also always interested in how managers might react if we do something particularly exciting, like score a last minute winner in a Dundee Derby. I got the impression under Mellon that he would have gone absolutely tonto, ripping off his gilet, entertaining us with topless laps of the pitch screamind – “We are Dundee United” through a megaphone. Will Tam be that kind of manager? Or will he remain cool and calm on the touchline? We will have to wait until we scud Dundee to find out.
I’m right behind the manager and I’m right behind his staff, because that’s what we do. I will remain that way until anything changes and although unfortunately for Courts he maybe won’t get the same time that others have had in the past, he will get my full support.
As the season progresses this section will be much more about the level of performance from our individual players and from the squad as a whole. Of course at this stage of the season it’s much more about the strength and depth that we have, and/or transfer rumours, players leaving, players signing new contracts, and the emergence of any youngsters who have shown up well in pre-season across the cup games and in friendlies.
It has been quite nice seeing such a variety of young players make an impact in the cup games these last few weeks. United have made no secret to the fact that we are going to be exposing more and more of our young talent to first team football. How much of a part they will play this league season probably still remains to be seen and depends on any transfer business that we do (which at the moment of course is very little). Every young player has done themselves proud and performed well enough to not look too out of place in these early stages. Once the league starts and the level of opposition increases dramatically we will begin to see if any of these young stars can make a genuine impact and have a breakthrough season.
There is of course only one new signing to really speak of with regards to these early games and that has been Charlie Mulgrew. He has shown a steady enough level of performance and has settled in fairly well, however for a central defender the true test is not, and no offence meant, playing against East Fife – it will be coming up against Aberdeen’s new strikers tomorrow.
The only other arrival has been goalkeeper Trevor Carson. He has really struggled with injury recently, but is highly rated and well thought of by Motherwell fans. It seems as though his place in the squad is as backup for now, but maybe the club were preparing for the possibility of Siegrist leaving when he arrived, so it will be interesting to see how Benji’s situation develops and the impact Carson can have.
Contract extensions have also been handed out in July. Both Logan Chalmers and Ryan Edwards have agreed to extend their stay at Tannadice, and both are strong pieces of business for the club.
I am hoping to write a follow-up piece about contracts and squad depth, similar to those I have published in the past.
Heading out of United on loan are Kai Fotheringham and Ross Graham (who also signed an extension to his deal). I thought that we may have seen Graham feature this season given his succesful spells with Cove Rangers and Elgin, but joining Dunfermline, who look very strong this season, will be great for his development and he has already made an impact for them. A succesful year will undoubtedly see him return as a first-team player for United. As for Fotheringham, he maybe didn’t have the impact he would have liked at Falkirk last season, but like Graham he is another who is getting the chance in the Championship this season and under a manager who enjoys developing youngsters.
We were all hoping for some transfer business ahead of the first league game but at the time of writing this has not happened. The transfer window still has another month to run but other clubs have been doing their business in preparation for these early games. As I will maybe mention in a later section, United haven’t really helped themselves with some of the sound bites declaring that we are “active” in the transfer market. As has been the case in the last 18 months, fans only have the large echo chamber of social media to discuss these things with one another, so for the club to suggest business will be done, it can lead to a bit of furstation which usually results in a bit of a mess on social media, and some of it could be helped by better communication from the club in certain areas.
Undoubtedly the squad is still at least two or three bodies light and ideally that number would increase depending on what quality (and what money) is available. Signing random players is probably quite easy (literally hundreds are released every year) but signing quality players does take time and it may be that things have been happening behind the scenes and that some deals have fallen through or we are waiting for other clubs to carry out their own business before moving players on.
Eventually I will have more to say on the squad and the level of performance in this segment. The real business begins this weekend and it won’t be long before we are all back watching the games live, and those social media debates can spill into the stands instead.
I do want to have some kind of award or acknowledgement for one player that has stood out each and every month, with this may be manifesting itself into both a ‘Player of the Month’ and ‘Young Player of the Month’ depending on who has broken into the team.
For July it has been fairly slim pickings but that has been due to the fact that the club have used so many different variations of lineup, and for some players they have maybe only seen small segments of each game rather than having a proper run in the team. For me the player that has stood out in terms of making an impact is Kieran Freeman. He has finally been given some consistent time on the pitch and he has been doing something that hasn’t been seen at Tannadice for about five years, assisting some goals using what I believe people refer to as ‘crosses’.
Freeman has had quite an erratic and problematic career to this point, with much of it being sadly affected by injury. He briefly made an appearance last season for the club but for the majority of the time he was successfully plying his trade on loan and in many different positions across the pitch for Peterhead. He has shown in these early games that his versatility and his level of energy could become something very important for United this season.
It may be the case that he is not first name on any teamsheet but having somebody in the squad who is dependable, full of running and can play in multiple positions is something that we may have to call upon at various stages. Freeman is at an age where he needs to be making an impact within a first team environment and hopefully his early career potential (which was massive when he was a teenager) can be fulfilled.
Much like the other elements in this new monthly review this section will probably not take shape until the season gets underway. The plan is to comment on some of the club news that might include – staffing changes, club initiatives or projects, and anything that is connected to the senior leadership within Tannadice.
The month of July has been relatively busy. We have seen – staff leaving, staff arriving, new kits, movment within the DUCT in terms of their next phase, and most importantly the club working on the return of more fans into Tannadice with Covid restrictions in mind. The succesful application to Dundee City Council regarding our first home game is brilliant news and something we can all look forward to (although, I am actually not in Dundee that weekend so my own wait for live football continues…)
On the staffing front Stevie Grieve left the club as the ‘Head of Analysis’. United have amalgamated both Tam Court’s old role and the job vactated by Grieve, into one position. They have been replaced by Chris Docherty who arrives at the club having been previously working in Croatia, with Hajduk Split. This role within the club has been the talking point for many, many social media discussions, so it is vital that United not only now convince fans about the importance of this job, but that we ultimately see the benefits of this role as the season progresses.
Something that did take everyone by surprise was the departure of Neil Alexander as Goalkeeping Coach. It had been widely acknowledged that Alexander had done a magnificent job in helping the goalkeepers at the club, especially Benji Siegrest, so this change was not recevied well, and unfortunately there had been some local rumours about disagreements within the coaching team, resulting in Alexander leaving.
A theme in these last number of months has been the uncertainty due to fans being so disengaged from the club, so when changes like this happen it does then allow for supporters to become anxious and a little bit suspicious about any motives behind such changes. Ultimately we are in position of having to try and trust those in charge, and the club moved to appoint Tony Caig as the new coach for our goalkeepers. I wish him all the very best in his role at Tannadice.
We have also seen the new strips for this season released by club in collaboration with Macron. I said that the time of the reveal that I wasn’t particularly excited by either the home or the away kit, and although they’ve grown on me a little I do still think that they are at the poorer end of the designs we’ve had with Macron. I am a big fan of the training gear and hopefully once the online portal and the club shop have full stock of all the training range I might be purchasing a few items (and of course I will still get the full kits for my wee one).
Finally, I want to hopefully keep giving information about the brilliant Community Trust. This month the DUCT launched a formal consultation regarding the development of Fairmuir Park and the plans for redeveloping the area to enhance the local community and what the trust can offer. From the club website –
“The Community Trust is committed to refurbishing the existing building within the first 12 months of the asset transfer, should the application be successful. The long-term ambition of the Community Trust for the pavilion is that it can also become a base for the Charity to support and extend our work in and for the local community. In addition to establishing a new base within pavilion, the Community Trust also wishes to provide enhanced facilities and the consultation with the local community will shape how this looks.“
I have long been guilty of having a bit of a haver in these blog posts, and I wanted a space to continue that and it will also allow people who have no interest in these ramblings to skip this bit in future if it all becomes a bit of a mess. I wanted to try and maybe pick one element of either the club, the team (or something connected to just Scottish football in general) and have a little bit of rant or ramble around the issue I wanted to raise.
For this initial monthly review I wanted to look at the structure of the senior leadership at the club and comment on the communication chains used (or not used) in order to get information to supporters. This has been a terrible period of time for everyone and fans continue to show their unwavering financial support and commitment to their football team, the hope is that any club does the same for the fans and gives them enough to keep them interested, connected and well informed about the plans and vision for the future. In my mind the lack of some kind of Chief Executive type figure at United is currently an issue.
When Mal Brannigan left the club he was not replaced, and although this is not me trying to sing the praises of him specifically, it is now the case that we do not really have that figure within the club who is in charge of coordinating many of the off field communication, commercial, media and ticketing arrangements. We also have nobody at United who is a direct contact on social media unlike other clubs (either a dedicated Supporter’s Officer, or as for some teams, the actual Chief Executive). This, in my mind, has led to a lack of clarity over certain issues or questions at a time when fans are a bit isolated from the club and are just desperate for information.
Take the kit launch for example. The social media postings were thin on the ground regarding the new strips, and I noticed in the statement surrounding the launch that the club have plans for an online portal that is currently being worked on and will be launched in August. To me, in this day and age, and when a club is aiming to increase its revenue – to not have such a platform ready for a kit launch isn’t ideal and it maybe needed someone, like a Chief Executive, to drive this forward and create an engaging kit campaign and ensure that all online and purchasing aspects were as good as they needed to be.
Some clubs are very good at just paying a little bit of lip service regarding what is happening, but Dundee United don’t really seem to be keen on having that within their social media presence or in their communication channels. For some this is not a big issue, and I know that many will be reading this and thinkig “I don’t care about this stuff”, which is fine, but like it or not, fans do engage with social media and for many this is how we find out about the club and what is going on at Tannadice.
We all know that this is a tough time for everyone and for many football clubs there are probably still some very challenging logistical issues regarding staffing, which will have undoubtedly impacted things, but there have been some small gestures needed by the club that have not really been present, and at a time when we have all been desperate for things to keep us informed, entertained and occupied.
The fact remains – results on the pitch and people going to the games is ultimately what we all want to focus on, but in my mind there is a need for a greater social media presence and/or the appointment of someone to oversee many of the departments within the business, beyond the football itself.
Anyway, much of that was written before the announcment regarding fans getting back to Tannadice and you are also possibly reading this just hours before the start of the new league campaing, so what the hell are you doing bothering about any of that social media and communcation guff, let’s just all look ahead to the football!
We finish on a look ahead to next month – August.
Our league campaign starts tomorrow against Aberdeen. By the end of the month we will have completed four league fixtures and our tie against Ayr United. There is no doubt that the opening set of games are incredibly challenging but this is the task that all Premiership teams face and it is vital that we try to at least show something under our new manager and that we can compete in these early fixtures to give us a start that can set the tone for even just the performance levels across the season. This new project at United needs to get underway in a positive fashion and Courts will know this.
What would a successful August look like? Well, games against Aberdeen, Rangers, St Johnstone and Hearts would hopefully result in a few positive results and at least some kind of consistency in the level of performance. It would also be a success if we can navigate our way past Ayr in the cup.
My other hopes for August would be of course one or two additional signings, done in the right way with the right quality (and with hopefully no transfer deadline day panic). Ultimately, and I don’t want to sound like a broken record, a successful August to me will mean seeing Tannadice once more, and possibly by the end of the month back to normal if restrictions are lifted and maximum capacity at outdoor events like football can be given the go ahead.
Hopefully some of this very long post is enough to keep you occupied or interested for a few minutes ahead of the Aberdeen game but equally I know, because some people tell me, this isn’t something that you may always agree with and some of the points I have raised may be wildly off the mark. Again, at the end of the day this is just the opinion of one fan trying to increase content related to United. This is also a fan hopeful that he can not only keep up the blogging but also get back to the football ASAP…