You’d be forgiven for thinking that Saturday’s game against Livingston is even being played. For United the focus is now the playoffs (okay we still need a result to guarantee 3rd) and for Livi it will be a case of party mode as they can relax in the knowledge that they have a bit of time off before they face Dunfermline in the second round of the playoffs (see what I did there?).
As soon as I published my last match preview I knew that I had pretty much guaranteed United losing the game in Dumfries. It was full of positives and praise for the players who had started to show grit, desire and determination. Amazing then that this all seemed to disappear and at the most important time. I am all for questioning Csaba Laszlo and his managerial capabilities but last Saturday was all on the players. They made the errors, they suddenly lost any drive they had in previous games and they were the ones who let us down YET AGAIN.
The match against Livingston is an absolute non-event. Should the manager play the youngsters? Should he use it as a way of testing the team he would like to start in the playoffs? Either way the atmosphere on Saturday will be completely flat and it will be a pretty meaningless game of football. We don’t have long to wait until the first playoff matches but my worry is that most United supporters (myself included) seem totally nonplussed by the whole scenario. I am absolutely behind the team in terms of wanting them to achieve but it does feel as though there is an inevitability about our failure to secure promotion for the second time in succession. Maybe I shouldn’t be so pessimistic and in many ways there is more depth to this squad compared to last season but the reality is this group of players have a track record for falling short when the pressure is really on.
A short match preview for a match short on excitement. Maybe by Sunday I will be in a better place to go full steam ahead for the playoffs. Hopefully the United players will feel the same. If we do fall at the first hurdle then I suppose we can comfort ourselves with the knowledge that you would expect some major reshuffling at the club to start pretty soon after the last ball is kicked.
A week is a long time in football.
After I published my St.Mirren match preview I was sent three separate messages via Twitter and Facebook accusing me of being overly pessimistic. I would argue that the match preview didn’t contain anything that wasn’t true and that it was written after a series of very, very poor performances. Maybe it was Csaba who messaged me and then decided to pin the report up in the Tannadice dressing room because less than 24 hours later Dundee United produced, in many ways, the performance of the season so far. To deny St.Mirren the title at Tannadice was important for the players but more so for the fans. The team has since followed that win with another 3 points against Falkirk and then again against Brechin on Tuesday night. It gives us all hope that maybe, just maybe, the season might still have a few surprises left. We are in a very strong position to secure at least a playoff spot and you can now begin to even dream about a 2nd place finish. If we did somehow finish behind St.Mirren it would give the team some extra rest before the playoff fixtures. It requires Livi dropping points but they may well do that against Inverness next Tuesday night as the Highland side can still sneak into the playoffs and they will travel to the Tony Macaroni Arena full of confidence after a remarkable run of wins. If David Hopkin’s men do drop points then the last league game of the season will be a really exciting fixture to look forward to. It also looks like Csaba has finally found a fairly settled side that can produce some consistency at the right time. Is everything falling in to place?
The most pleasing aspect about the last few games and, in particular, the St.Mirren performance is the fact that we have played like a Championship team. By that I mean we are a bit happier to kick folk, waste a little time and ‘play the game’ a little bit in terms of sportsmanship. For some it might be a little much but for me and most United fans it is a refreshing and satisfying style of play because it shows another side to a team that we have been questioning. We are not out of the woods, there are still flaws, but the last three games have shown us a different Dundee United.
There is no doubt that the game on Saturday is a must win. Hopefully this newly galvanised group of players can yet again produce the goods and, as long as the footballing gods are smiling on us, it means we can then begin to look forward to a final day showdown against Livingston.
What we will definitely need in Dumfries is another strong performance by our defenders and goalkeeper. Amazingly we have now managed three clean sheets in a row, something that would have been unthinkable a few fixtures previous. Praise must be given to Deniz Mehmet who has now probably cemented his number one spot for the remaining games and it has been very pleasing to watch the development of Tony Ralston who is growing with each passing minute on the pitch. There is also no doubt that we are now beginning to see the real value in our surprise signing of Bilel Mohsni. He may well have been a figure of fun before he arrived at Tannadice but he is clearly the best defender we have and he could be the key to any possible playoff success (ironic given his history in these games). Reports today suggest we are trying to negotiate a contract extension for the defender, whose contract expires this summer.
It was mentioned the other day that we now have more points than we did last season which feels a bit strange given the overall disappointment in this campaign. Make no mistake, if we do not get promoted it will be seen as a failure but we are at least putting ourselves in a position to make it a possibility, regardless of how slight a chance that might be.
All talk of the boardroom strife and potential investment is probably going to put in hold over the next four weeks as these season, and potentially club, defining games begin. It would be fantastic if this squad can give us something to get excited about in the month of May.
Let’s assume that on Tuesday night St.Mirren will be crowned 2017/18 Scottish Championship winners. They thoroughly deserve it. It will be interesting to see what they can achieve next season because although they will be up against it they are a very well run club with a plan for the future and a set of fans who are right behind the team, the board and the manager. They are the absolute antithesis of Dundee United. The title win will come under the lights of Tannadice and there will probably be more St.Mirren fans there than there will be United supporters. I am fully expecting the atmosphere amongst the home fans to be pretty horrible on Tuesday and I would like to congratulate the Saints on their title win. I would also like to thank the Dundee United board, players and management for allowing this to happen and for making this all possible. I’ve seen both Rangers and Celtic win titles at Tannadice and I will be there on Tuesday to see St.Mirren do the same, so as I say, thanks for that.
The Championship table as it stands shows us TWENTY ONE points behind a team that we were slightly ahead of at Christmas time. We are also now in a position where finishing 2nd is out of our hands because Livingston won their crucial game against Greenock Morton yesterday (for anyone like me who has forgotten what this means, apparently this is when you manage to win a really important match). The fact that St.Mirren will win the title against us is almost poetic and it is what these Dundee United players deserve after failure upon failure this season.
Yesterday the latest embarrassment came against Dumbarton, a side in such a dreadful goalscoring run of form that they had not scored a league goal against anyone other than Brechin since Boxing Day. Once again simple mistakes cost us. A ball over the top and two corners gifted Dumbarton three goals. It really is embarrassing and this is quite comfortably the worst group of players to play for the club since I started going to games in 1995. It is the same problems and the same fundamental errors that let us down week after week. The post-match interview from Csaba Laszlo was yet again a repetition of the same sound bites and empty words about players taking responsibility and us needing to learn from our mistakes. I fully expect St.Mirren to tear us apart on Tuesday night.
With all of that out the way lets look at the state of things as we approach the final five league games. We are currently in 4th spot and we sit three points behind Dunfermline (but have two games in hand over the Pars). Realistically the only other team in contention for a playoff spot would be Greenock Morton who occupy fifth and we are two points ahead of them (with one game in hand). You could argue that Inverness might make a late charge but they would have to go on an amazing run of form to get into the top four. Dunfermline, who only have three games remaining, can realistically hope for nine points out of nine whereas Morton, in my opinion, should be realistically aiming for about 6 or 7. This all means that I would think that to get a playoff spot United will need roughly 6 points out of the final 5 games. With our run-in being St.Mirren, Falkirk, Brechin, Queen of the South and Livingston that might actually be a difficult ask given our current form. What is also painfully clear is that we are not equipped for a promotion playoff challenge and we would undoubtedly fail if we do actually make it.
This season needs to end as soon as possible and Tuesday night will be yet another painful 90 minutes for the supporters. The fact that the opposition will probably leave the pitch as title winners is a fitting tribute to the worst Dundee United side in my lifetime.
It is the double-header everyone was looking forward to and now it is time for the much-anticipated second half. Whilst most of the footballing universe were glued to their TVs on Tuesday night for the Champions League, a brave bunch of football fans gathered at Tannadice for the first leg of DUFC v DFC. A grand total of 3620 supporters turned up to witness a fairly assured Dundee United performance and a 2-0 victory for Csaba Laszlo’s men. It could have been more but a win is win and we have now reached the final run of games. If the side can make it another victory tomorrow then that would leave the team in a decent position for the remaining five fixtures. We are still in contention for the playoffs but it would take a very impressive run of victories for us to push Livingston all the way for second spot (although interestingly we play Livi on the last day of the league season).
After tinkering and tampering with the team and formation Laszlo has returned to a 4-2-3-1 with Stewart Murdoch being shifted in to a left back slot to replace Jamie Robson. To be fair to Murdoch he has played pretty well on the left hand side but he cannot be seen as a long-term left-back (or indeed right-back for that matter). The performance at Tannadice on Tuesday was solid enough although it probably should have yielded more goals. It was also yet again glaringly obvious that this United team are a soft touch and need to toughen up defensively. We are still making too many basic errors and inviting pressure when we don’t need to. Dumbarton were incredibly poor so although we played well there was also an element of the opposition maybe making us look good. We have games against St.Mirren and Falkirk up next and they will not give us the time and space Dumbarton did on Tuesday.
For tomorrow there shouldn’t be many changes and you would expect, given no fresh injury worries, that Laszlo may even stick with the same eleven. For me personally I would only make one change with Matty Smith being rested for either Thomas Mikkelsen or Scott Fraser. Despite bursting on to the scene a few weeks ago it has been a poor couple of games for Smith and he has been unable to make the most of his first team place.
My favoured lineup against Dumbarton would be…
GK – Harry Lewis
RB – Anthony Ralston
CB – Mark Durnan
CB – Bilel Mohsni
LB – Stewart Murdoch
CM – Willo Flood
CM – Sam Stanton
RM – Paul McMullan
CAM – Scott Fraser
LM – Billy King
ST – Scott McDonald
Subs – Deniz Mehmet, Jamie Robson, Craig Slater, William Edjenguele, Emil Lyng, Grant Gillespie, Matty Smith.
Key Man – Bilel Mohsni. Let’s get one thing straight, part of me still thinks that at any moment Bilel Mohsni is going to lose the plot and end someone’s career with a UFC style take down for no reason at all. However it had to be said that Mohsni has been absolutely brilliant for United in his few appearances so far. He has been composed on the ball and technically he is far superior to any other defender we have. I find it bizarre even saying this but we really should be considering offering him a longer contract to tie him down for next season at the very least.
Well, Dundee United continue to find new and interesting ways to disappoint and frustrate us. When you look at a result like a 1-1 draw at Cappielow on its own it isn’t the biggest disaster in the world but when you look at it in the context of the season and the circumstances in which Morton managed to secure an injury time equaliser then it becomes yet another poor result and one that leaves us in even more trouble. We are now further adrift of second place after Livingston managed to hammer Dumbarton but we are also now 5th in the table. I wonder what the majority of United fans now think about the playoffs? Would you really want to go through the drama and, in all likelihood, the disappointment? Maybe not.
Our ridiculous run of games continues this week with a double header against Dumbarton. Nothing but 6 points from these two games should be acceptable. The Sons are also in terrible form and the reality is we should really be winning these games. It will probably be another Laszlo tombola with the starting eleven so again I won’t be making any predictions for the team.
That is pretty much it for this match preview. I did say that I am running out of things to say and it is becoming more difficult to go over the same things from game to game. The only piece of news that has emerged since the weekend has been the rumour regarding new investment or a possible takeover. It has been reported in the press that during the club’s AGM there was a discussion about an American group who are close to being involved at the club. As always these rumours have now grown arms and legs with everything from “it is just a Thompson scare story” to “it is the same Americans that own Dundee so it looks like a merger”. The reality in these cases is that none of us know what is going on so we just have to wait and see if anything comes from it.