Well let’s be honest, after 55 turgid minutes of football on Friday night I did not expect to be writing a piece previewing the next round of the playoffs. I had sat in my seat for most of half-time thinking about what I wanted to write in an end of season rant but from the moment Scott McDonald’s neat flick ended up in the back of the net to level the score it was pretty much all United and now we can look ahead with genuine optimism as we face Livingston tomorrow night and again on Friday. Although we did play some pretty uninspiring football against Dunfermline we did eventually dominate the game and we ran out comfortable winners in the end. We managed the game very well and it was a rare glimpse of United’s players showing grit and determination. We may have only had two days rest but you would hope that the professionalism and experience of the squad will give them that extra energy boost ahead of tomorrow’s home leg.
Moving on to the game itself and I actually quite like the fact that we are at home in the first leg. I know that generally speaking the advantage is always if you play at home in the second game but to be honest our away form is so poor that if we can get a decent result at home then it would give us something to hold on to. I also think that the mood after the game on Friday was really positive so hopefully that good feeling (coupled with the bank holiday weekend and decent weather) might mean a good turn out and a great atmosphere from the stands. The players need us to give them our complete and unwaivering support until the end of these playoff games.
On paper I am actually more optimistic about beating Livingston compared to Dunfermline. I think that Dunfermline have a stronger squad of players and Livingston, for the most part, have relied heavily on team spirit, form and good man management. In a one-off cup-tie like fixture I think that United should be confident of securing a result and the home advantage tomorrow night should give the players confidence.
I personally hope that Laszlo will start with a more recognised 4-4-2 and I think that, fitness permitting, we should be looking to play our most physical starting 11. Livingston know how to play a more physical game and I worry that players like Fraser and Robson may not be given the time and space on the ball they want. The changes I would make would be to drop Robson and bring Durnan back into the heart of the defence, allowing Murdoch to be shifted over to the left. I would also start with Mikkelsen upfront alongside McDonald to give him help in unsettling the Livi defence. I’d like to think that McMullan would be fit enough to start out wide with King on the opposition flank. It is safe to say that King has not exactly stood out in the playoffs but to be honest he is the only other genuine wide player we have.
What we need again is a good backing from the fans. The atmosphere at East End Park was great and although the first half on Friday meant a chorus of boos at half-time the atmosphere in the last twenty minutes was brilliant. It felt like Tannadice should and it was great to hear some of the lesser heard songs getting a run out as we made our way out of the ground and into the queue for tickets.
United are more than capable of securing their place in the playoff final. Let’s make it happen, let’s back the team and let’s turn Tannadice into a sea of tangerine tomorrow night.
Let’s get one thing straight, the playoffs are a time for unwavering support. This blog post will be a positive one, a supportive one and one that will hopefully lift the spirits a little. These upcoming fixtures may lead to nothing but as long as we are in the playoffs the reality is that we are one step closer to a promotion and a return to the Premiership. It might seem like a pipe dream and it might seem like we require a footballing miracle but this is football after all and miracles can and do happen. If we are to demand every last ounce of energy from the players then we as fans must also give the same.
Fatigue will play a part but the supporters can alievate that a little by giving the players that extra ounce of energy. We faltered badly by the time we reached the Hamilton games last season but there is more depth to this squad and we do, on paper, have more options in most areas of the park. The team is also actually on a pretty good run of form (Queen of the South apart). There is more than enough experience in this squad to see off Dunfermline and then Livingston next week. As I write this I know some of it sounds like an alien language compared to recent blog posts but once again I say, this is football and miracles can happen. From the moment I step into East End Park tomorrow to the moment that the final whistle is blown in whatever playoff fixture we end up in the team will get my complete backing. The United fans are a loyal bunch when the pressure is on and if early ticket sales are anything to go by the team will have the support they want. It is all down to them. I would suggest that these playoff games are like one-off domestic cup fixtures, the team that wants to win the battle will be the team that wins out in the end.
I also hope that in all of is managerial experience we have someone in charge who can at least try to tactically navigate his way through these high-pressure ties. In Csaba Laszlo we have a manager who is eccentric and unpredictable so maybe, just maybe this is the kind of environment he will thrive in. He has promised a new Dundee United, he has promised that things will be different in playoffs. Csaba, I hope that you are right.
I’m not sure what kind of system the manager will deploy tomorrow but I hope that he picks a side who can play the occasion and not the game. I know that maybe sounds like the complete opposite of what a manager would say but to be honest the winning formula in a playoff game is the occasion taking over and giving the players the energy and passion to get over the finishing line. I look to the St.Mirren game recently as an example of a team playing the occasion. We fought, we battled and we bent the rules a little when it came to gamesmanship. For me this is what I want again tomorrow as we travel to Dunfermline. The home leg is maybe an opportunity to open up a bit more but I think tomorrow is all about stamping your authority on the tie.
All talk of form, head-to-heads and hoodoos don’t really make a difference in my opinion. It might be that football record books show that we have a ridiculously good record over Dunfermline but others might say that maybe now is the time for them to end that. Tomorrow and Friday are about heart and fight, not statistics and form guides.
When all is said and done and as we look ahead to these games against Dunfermline and beyond remember, this is football and miracles do happen…
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.
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.