Category Archives: Scottish Championship

Match Review – Dunfermline vs Dundee United – 13/1/18

In normal circumstances a result like last week’s 6-1 humiliation against Falkirk may have resulted in me boycotting the next away game as a form of protest but unfortunately Steak Bridies exist in this world and I cannot say no to an East End Park Steak Bridie (or two). The reality though is that, despite saying this every week, the Dunfermline game became the most important of the season far. If we won and won well then the season looked like getting back on track. Lose, and hear the news that St.Mirren had won away at Dumbarton then it looks like things are getting to stage where it is done and dusted. Another season in the Championship would be a disaster for the club so it really is all or nothing right now.

The paper talk all week was quite bullish from Csaba Laszlo. Shouts of “we are Dundee United” and the claim that even Celtic wouldn’t put 6 past his side have meant that the build-up to the game has been quite intriguing. Before the Dunfermline fixture Laszlo stated, “As a player I don’t remember we lost like this ever and on the field I tried to keep the stability in my team. As a manager I don’t lose like this with six goals. It was like a nightmare, but this was reality, not a nightmare.”

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In an ideal world fans would have liked to have seen Laszlo ring the changes but the reality is we don’t have the squad capable of it and Laszlo himself said, “If you have the possibility for change, maybe you change but I want the people back in charge,”.

Hopefully my Steak Bridies are not the only good thing to come out of the visit to East End Park…

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So, the big question on everybody’s lips, “would United give us a reaction after last week?”

The answer? No.

From the first minute the United team seemed happy for the ball to be played across the back four and happy for play to be built up incredibly slowly. Dunfermline coped with this very easily and it resulted in a very poor 90 minutes from Csaba Laszlo’s team. The reality is that without Scott Fraser and Fraser Fyvie the team seems to have lost a bit of spark. There is very little going forward and no real control in the middle of the park. Today’s performance felt just as deflating as last week. I was genuinely looking forward to this afternoon because I assumed that it would be a United side full of fight and aggression. Sadly it was a fairly insipid performance, made all the worse with the result from Dumbarton. We are now 8 points behind St.Mirren and the title race is officially out of our own hands. In the space of three weeks we have gone from being in control to being cut adrift and hoping for other results to go our way. We of course have a game in hand and a home fixture against St.Mirren in March but we don’t look like title winners at present.

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The team today should have had enough to beat Dunfermline but the manner in which we went about our business meant that it was all too easy for the Pars. Things could have been even worse if the home side had managed to finish one of the three or four good chances they had in the last fifteen minutes. It felt like, to me, that we were almost playing for the point in the end. It might have been nerves after last week but to be honest it should have been a performance of attacking intent, not one that resulted in incredibly safe and predictable football.

Dundee United Player Ratings – 

25. Harry Lewis – 5 – Guilty of incredibly poor distribution. Didn’t have a huge amount to do apart from making three very good saves, two of which came directly from his own mistakes.

4. Mark Durnan – 7 – It says a great deal about a performance when you feel that one of your central defenders was the best player in the side. He made some very important interceptions and kept things together at the back.

3. Tam Scobbie – 4 – Another really poor performance from Scobbie who made a number of bad judgement calls at the back and was caught for pace on a few occasions.

16. Willo Flood – 6 – Did a reasonable job at right-back and came to the rescue a few times. Didn’t get forward too often. 

17. Jamie Robson – 6 – Much more comfortable on the left hand side. Like Flood he didn’t get forward to often and he had to make up for Scobbie’s mistakes on a few occasions.  

15. Craig Slater – 6 – Grew in to the game as it went on and looks like a decent enough player. Didn’t stamp enough authority on to the game .  

12. Sam Stanton – 6 – Similar to Slater. Did okay but did not do enough on the ball and didn’t manage to get the better of the Dunfermline midfield.

7. Paul McMullan – 6 – Credit to McMullan for putting in a real shift. He hassled and harried but his final ball, as always, was lacking. He missed a good chance towards the end of the game.  

11. Billy King – 5 – Completely out of the game in the first half and only really saw the ball on a few occasions during the second 45. Flashes of positivity but not enough. 

58. Emil Lyng – 5 – Looks a decent enough handful but let down badly by the supply in to his feet or the lack of crosses into the box.

8. Scott McDonald – 4 – For me it was another really poor performance from someone who did plenty of talking during the week. His decision-making in particular was very, very poor.

Subs – 5. Paul Quinn (2) You must assume Stanton was injured otherwise it was a very strange decision to bring Quinn on. He did very little as a central midfielder.

Man of the Match – For me it was Mark Durnan. It shouldn’t be the case that a central defender becomes your key man but the reality is we relied on him to bail us out on several occasions today.

Next Fixture – The league takes a break as we travel to play Alloa in the Scottish Cup. If we were flying high at the top of the table I would say play your strongest team but to be honest it should be used to field some fringe players and work on fitness for those lacking it. Laszlo has a lot of work ahead of him over the next fortnight, and hopefully a couple of new signings might be on the horizon.

Match Preview – Dunfermline vs Dundee United

There is little doubt that United fans will be approaching Saturday’s game against Dunfermline with some anger still to subside after the 6-1 thrashing against Falkirk. It was one of the worst performances in living memory and will take a long time to get over. One group of people who do need to move on, and quickly, are the players. Much has been said in the last few days with players publicly apologising in the newspapers, on ArabZone and on their social media platforms. Talk is cheap though and the only comfort for United fans will be a good result and a strong performance.

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The fact that our next opponents are Dunfermline could act as a blessing or a curse. We actually have a strong record against the Pars but we must be wary of the fact that they will have seen last week’s result and fancy their chances. They are on a good run of form and one thing Dunfermline can do is score goals so it will be vitally important that the defensive errors that were there for all to see at the weekend are cut out. You would hope that despite a persistent injury Mark Durnan would be back in the starting eleven and, for me, Cammy Ballantyne deserves an opportunity at right-back (assuming Stewart Murdoch is still injured). It was the wrong call by Laszlo to expose Jamie Robson on his weaker side against Falkirk. He really struggled but so did Brandon Mason. He had a nervy 90 minutes and looked every bit the inexperienced defender on the left hand side. Those two had really poor games but they were not helped by the experienced central defenders also showing major weaknesses that the Falkirk players exploited far too easily.

In the deeper midfield positions we are limited with options but for me the two sitting players should be Sam Stanton and Craig Slater. I feel a little sorry for Willo Flood but his performances against Falkirk and St.Mirren, both away from home, were well below what is expected from him. The Dunfermline central midfield is arguably one of their weaker areas so if Stanton and Slater can dominate then we could gain control of the game.

That leaves the forward area. Nobody came out of the Falkirk game with any credit but again we are a little bit short on numbers. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a reshuffle but lack of bodies means that we are limited. James Keatings (who may be injured again) was totally anonymous last Saturday and for me it would be an easy decision to relegate him to the bench if others are available. There seems to be a little bit of confusion surrounding Paul McMullan’s two game suspension with some newspapers claiming he is banned but others saying that his second game is in fact next week. If he is available he should play instead of Keatings. The same selection dilemma is a bit more difficult when it comes to Scott McDonald. I think the veteran forward has some big attitude issues when things are not going his way and his body language against Falkirk was atrocious. He is, however, our top scorer and can be a game changer in terms of his finishing and awareness. I would probably go with a three of McMullan, McDonald and Keatings in behind our new striker Emil Lyng. The giant Dane didn’t really get a sniff during his brief cameo in the last game so he should be given the opportunity to lead the line against Dunfermline.

My team would be –

GK – Harry Lewis

 

RB – Cammy Ballantyne

CB – Mark Durnan

CB – Tam Scobbie

LB – Jamie Robson

 

CM – Craig Slater

CM – Sam Stanton

 

RM – Billy King

CAM – Scott McDonald

LM – James Keatings/Paul McMullan

 

ST – Emil Lyng

 

Subs – Deniz Mehmet, Brandon Mason, Paul Quinn, Willo Flood, Logan Chalmers, Matty Smith, Scott Allardice.

Key Player – Emil Lyng – A massive opportunity for the new striker to become the main man for United. We have been guilty of not taking chances this season so if he can get off the mark on Saturday then he could be the man to make a difference over the next few months.

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This Saturday the team need to put on a performance for the large travelling support. We normally take good numbers through to East End Park and this would be the perfect opportunity to show them that the team are still in the fight for the title. If we end up losing or dropping points then it could be last chance saloon if St.Mirren carry on winning. They play Dumbarton away and their lead at the top could be extended to nine points if we lose against Dunfermline.

 

Scottish Championship Mid-Term Report Card – St.Mirren

Although technically it is down to alphabetical order it is quite apt that my last Championship report card is also the easiest and probably the most positive. It is safe to say that if you are a Buddie then life is quite good at the moment and the last 12 months have been some of the best in recent memory. They also have, at the moment, one of the best young managers in country leading their charge back to the Premiership. Things are on the up regardless of whether they win the title this year or not (I am a Dundee United fan so have to remain optimistic). The free scoring Saints have provided this league with the best performances and best individual players we have seen this season so it is looking more and more likely that they have enough to get them over the finishing line.

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The form guide has been full of green this year as only 4 defeats and 3 draws have meant an impressive points haul of 38 in the first half of the campaign. This averages out at 19 points per quarter (with 17 being the enough to win the Championship over the past few seasons). Two big wins over Dundee United in Paisley also show that when they need a result, more often than not they get one. I must say I have always been thoroughly impressed with the way Jack Ross sets out his team and the manner in which his side wins matches. They have great attacking flair but they are also streetwise enough that gradually as the season has gone on they have been able to grind out important results. The fact that they have so many different goal scorers in the team also shows just how potent St.Mirren are when they are on their game.

The amazing thing about how well St.Mirren are doing is that if I was to write a mid-term report for last season we would be talking about potential League One football. The Buddies didn’t win any of their first 14 games last year and they already have more points now than they ended up with in the whole of last term. Despite losing Stevie Mallan in the summer the team have been strengthened with some very smart signings, including top goalscorer Gavin Reilly and the permanent signing of Cammy Smith. From an outsiders point of view the, still fairly fresh, board seem to have all the right ideas and could be seen as the envy of some other clubs (remember, I am a Dundee United fan). The supporters and the club all seem to working for the same goal and even if they did not gain promotion this year things are looking incredibly bright. I suppose one challenge that may face the club in the near future is life after Jack Ross and making sure that the next managerial appointment is as positive.

One final point I want to make regards St.Mirren’s stance on Project Brave. I have always kept an eye on them because of the investment in youth development. They have probably been one of the more consistent producers of young talent in the country over the past 6 or 7 years so I was interested to hear why they hadn’t applied for ‘Elite’ status. It stems from the additional costs required to reach ‘Elite’ and the club felt that hiring more staff will happen but at the moment things are working well and within budget. Another sensible move by the board.

January Wishlist – There is no real desperate need to sign anyone in January. St.Mirren’s squad is already very strong and contains a plethora of attackers. I have seen a few suggestions that an enforcer type midfielder might be useful for additional strength in the middle and to maybe help see out games but to be honest as long as everyone is fit there is no need to add more than 1 or 2 and even then it would be mostly for cover.

Player of the Season (so far) – Take your pick. In any other season people like Stephen McGinn or Gavin Reilly would be up there but you can’t really look past one of the best young prospects in the country for this. Lewis Morgan has been simply outstanding this year and he has been rewarded with a move to Celtic. The decision regarding his loan back to the Saints for the remainder of the season is a fantastic piece of business that will benefit both Morgan and St.MIrren.

Predicted Finish – 2nd. Just to clarify the prediction of 2nd is more hope than anything else due to my own allegiances. I must admit as the weeks go by it is looking more and more likely that St.Mirren might end up as title winners in May. Before the festive period it looked like Dundee United were in the driving seat however the Buddies have gone on to notch some impressive results and now have a clear advantage over Csaba Laszlo’s side. There may well be a sticky spell ahead but the only reason I say that is down to pure chance given most teams go through 3 or 4 games a season when things slow down. I can but hope…

Manager Grade – A. Is Jack Ross the best young manager in Scotland? He is probably close. Almost everything you hear about him is positive. The players praise his man management, his coaches praise his training sessions and it helps that as a person he is very engaging, intelligent and willing to help others. imgID140956005.jpg.gallery.jpgThe big worry for any St.Mirren fan is actually someone else losing their job because Ross will be mentioned anytime there is a vacancy. There would have been a few nervy fans watching on as Hearts were looking for a new manager earlier in the season and again when the Derek McInnes saga was rumbling on. I have even seen a few mentions of a possibility of him being on the Stoke City shortlist. One thing is for sure, if he wins the league and then moves on then there will not be a single fan with anything but positivity towards Jack Ross.

Overall Grade – A. I am of course delighted as a United fan to say that things are wonderful in Paisley. In all seriousness though there is a slight feeling of jealousy as, at the moment, things seem to be sitting very nicely both on and off the pitch for St.Mirren. They seem to be heading for the Championship title and they have given themselves a little bit of breathing space over the coming weeks. A couple of freak results may derail things but to be honest there is a big part of me that thinks it is now St.Mirren’s title to lose. It is a great time to be a Buddie.

Scottish Championship Mid-Term Report Card – Queen of the South

Challenge – Try to write this report and not mention Stephen Dobbie every other sentence.

Queen of the South are pretty much Championship veterans now and they have managed in the last few seasons to be there or there abouts almost every year. They are normally quite good value for the odd big result and it is always the case that teams tend to worry about their trips to Palmerston as being the games that see them slip up. It has been another season of decent runs of form mixed in with a few terrible results but so far, in general, things have been okay (but not great).

Getting their own fans to come and watch Queens has been an issue over the past few seasons and crowds are not that impressive again this year. They have tried to entice more supporters to the games but it remains that they have one of the lower average attendances and by default this then affects their budgets and ability to sign players. It is for this reason that they are probably now in a situation where they feel like they don’t really know what the next steps are. The investment opportunities are not really there to be able to push them towards a title challenge but at the same time they are safe enough at the moment that relegation is not really a concern.

January Wishlist – For me Queens need to shore up their back line and the fact that they have conceded more goals than everyone bar the bottom two means they need to sign a couple of defenders at the very least. They have already secured the services of Myles Beerman from Rangers so he should provide additional cover defensively (although he is predominantly a fullback). Further forward they need some more bodies in the middle of the park. The midfield is not dominant enough and there is no ‘presence’ in there. With the departing Chris Kane it is also important that Queens add to their forward line. It doesn’t help they are tight budget wise and will, like others, be competing for similar players.

Player of the Season (so far) – I’ve been saving up my Stephen Dobbie mentions so I might as well go for it now. The 35-year old is probably the best player in the Championship and there are a number of Premiership sides who would be desperate to land his services. A bona fide Queen of the South legend he is now the fifth highest goalscorer in the club’s near 100 year history and is probably the best Queens player of the ‘modern era’. It isn’t just his goalscoring, technically he is a superb footballer with a wonderful range of passing. He reckons he has another two seasons in him. Let’s wait and see…

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Predicted Finish – 7th. Firstly, sorry. Secondly the only real reason that I have put Queens in 7th is that I have used up the other slots above them and to be honest 4th-8th is a total lottery. One of the reasons I think they might fall away a little is the reliance on Dobbie. They are not a one man team but if he was to pick up an injury or a suspension then the goals suddenly dry up. It might not happen but I think that some of the teams in and around Queen of the South might make a bigger push as the season reaches its critical stages. This is also a squad that is already a bit thin on the ground so much depends on January dealings.

Manager Grade – C. Generally speaking I’m a fan of Gary Naysmith and I have no doubt that he will have a decent career in management. It is however the case that maybe things are not quite as ‘fresh’ as they once were when he initially took over at Queen of the South. The team has stalled over the last year or so and it is looking like Naysmith, despite having a very tight budget, is maybe not quite getting the best out of what is available to him. He is at a stage in this job where he has been there long enough to be judged and it might be that come the end of the season he may need to move on if they do not progress in the league.

Overall Grade – B. Another season of ups and downs in Dumfries. A few good performances and watching Dobbie boss games has seen the fans enjoy a fair chunk of the season but there are also serious frailties in this side and maybe it is time for a freshening up of the coaching staff. On their day it feels like either Queens are running riot or failing badly and there is little in between. It must be incredibly frustrating for fans to watch their team flip from one type of performance to another but at the same time it must also be worrying that this side don’t seem to have a strong identity or consistency about them. Small home crowds and tightening budgets also mean that in such a tough league they may find themselves slipping down the league table not only this season but possible next too.

Match Review – Falkirk vs Dundee United – 6/1/18

Disclaimer – This first bit was written just before game.

There is nothing more exciting as a football fan than going to a game and wondering if some new signings will be playing for the first time. It doesn’t matter how bad your team are your heart will always be lifted by the news that you have some new players to judge support. Thankfully this United team are progressing quite well at the moment so signings Craig Slater, Brandon Mason and Emil Lyng are joining a squad that is already quite strong (if a little depleted).

Laszlo will have seen today’s game as a very difficult prospect as Falkirk are also in the midst of a signing spree and surely must come good at some point this season (they can’t be this bad all season can they?)

The starting eleven had two changes, both enforced. Paul McMullan was suspended due to his stupidity last week and Mark Durnan is still feeling the effects of a niggling injury that was made worse against Brechin. Of the new signings it was Brandon Mason and Craig Slater who made their debuts with Emil Lyng on the bench.

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The first half was probably the worst we have seen under Csaba Laszlo so far. The early goal was really the only positive for United and to be honest losing 2-1 at the break flattered us. Falkirk hit the bar and post with Craig Sibbald bossing the midfield. It was flat all over the park and our normally solid defence looked incredibly weak with Robson on the right being torn apart from the other Robson on the left for Falkirk. Paul Quinn really struggled in the tackle and looked very weak physically. It didn’t help that his passing was also pretty woeful. Harry Lewis looked very suspect, especially coming for crosses. Almost every Falkirk corner seemed to cause mass panic which was not helped by the insistence from Lewis to come charging out for every ball. Falkirk strolled the first 45.

Surely the second half would be better? Surely? No. No it wasn’t. In fact it was worse. Amazingly there was no reaction from the United team after the first half performance. Normally you expect a quick start or a bit of pressure early on but it was completely missing. All credit to Falkirk for their work-rate and forward play but as a team United were totally abject and had no redeeming qualities. Not much else to say about the game other than Laszlo will absolutely devastated and incredibly angry. This is a performance that will embarrass him and it embarrassed the 1200 odd United fans that made the effort to go. There can be very few slip ups now with St.Mirren continuing to pick up points. No more room for error and we need to move on from one of the worst performances I can remember from a United side.

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Dundee United Player Ratings – 

25. Harry Lewis – 2 – At fault for at least one of the goals and looked unsure all afternoon. Poorest he has been in a United shirt.

32. Brandon Mason – 3 – He obviously enjoyed getting forward but today caught him out. Maybe the pace of the game was a bit of a shock but he looked nervy on the ball and was out muscled far too easily.

3. Tam Scobbie – 3 – Badly caught out in a few one on one runs from people like Longridge and he did not look like an experienced pro today. Out paced and out thought.

5. Paul Quinn – 2 – I’ve seen this type of performance from Quinn before and it reminded me of the game against Crusaders. Totally devoid of any leadership and quality from someone you expect better from. 

17. Jamie Robson – 3 – Looked very uncomfortable in possession playing on his weaker side and he was easily beaten down the line far too often.  

15. Craig Slater – 4 – Probably United’s best midfielder despite being substituted early in the second half. Neat and tidy in possession so should be an important player over the next few months.  

12. Sam Stanton – 3 – Very quiet compared to his usual box-to-box style. Never got a sniff and was physically as weak as I have seen him.

16. Willo Flood – 3 – Back to the bad old days of last season. Looked totally lost and well short of pace compared to the Falkirk players around him. He was totally bossed by the Falkirk midfield.  

11. Billy King – 3 – Weak going forward and did nothing to help out Mason behind him. Nothing came off for him apart from his early goal which he took well.   

19. James Keatings – 2 – Going backwards again for Keatings. After last week’s decent performance he went missing today. Offered nothing on the ball.

8. Scott McDonald – 2 – Isolated upfront but did nothing to help his cause by not putting in any effort off the ball. Looked like he was in the huff for the majority of the game.  

Subs – 58. Emil Lyng (2) Made no impact under difficult circumstances. 38. Logan Chalmers (2) Difficult game for the youngster to be involved in. 28. Matty Smith (2) Same as Chalmers, couldn’t make any impact.

Man of the Match – Craig Sibbald. Not a chance any United player would be anywhere near this. In the first half Sibbald was by far the best player on the park, in the second he was a bit quieter but still dominated the midfield. Louis Longridge got the stadium announcement and was also very impressive for the Bairns. 

Next Fixture – Dunfermline Away – 13th December. We must surely see a massive reaction from United? Laszlo has a full week to prepare for what will be a massive game for his team. We must win at East End Park. Not only that we need to put in a dominant performance to repay the faith that the fans showed today (and will again next week).