I’ll be honest, I have no idea what to expect on Tuesday night when Queen of the South visit Tannadice. The loss to Livingston felt like more than just a sore defeat. It was the realisation that not only are we nowhere near the standard required to lift the Championship title, we are also now in serious danger of even securing a decent playoff spot. The manner in which United have approached recent games has resulted in fans beginning to turn their back on the team and I will predict by far and away the lowest league crowd of the season on Tuesday. Supporters don’t have to spend their time and money on going to see their team and at the moment the ‘product’ being served up on the park is terrible. Add to that the atmosphere surrounding the club, further poisoned by the sale of Gussie Park late in the week, and you cannot begrudge any fan who decides that they might rather stay in house on Tuesday night (and again on Friday). In my opinion we have hit very damaging tipping point and I fully expect season ticket numbers for next year to be very, very low unless, if by some miracle, the club manages to turn things around.
At team level questions are now being asked of Csaba Laszlo. Despite an early boost when he arrived in November we have become a pretty sorry excuse of a football team. Strange selections and tactics have led to some early calls for yet another change in manager. Yes we have been hampered by injuries but even the basic elements of a decent side are missing. We lack energy and purpose. We have no fluidity to our play and we are far too predictable. It is also pretty evident that psychologically the team are incredibly weak. The game against Livingston was the perfect comparison of two sides who, at the moment, are at the opposite ends of the footballing spectrum.
Moving on to the match itself we are facing a Queen of the South team who have also been quite patchy since Christmas. Despite having the league’s best player, Stephen Dobbie, they have stuttered in the league recently and on paper United should be looking to capitalise on that. From an outsiders point of view this fixture is quite intriguing with two teams short on confidence facing each other in the midst of a busy schedule.
There hasn’t been much in the way of news regarding injuries for this one and apparently Laszlo was quite happy with what he saw on Friday night so I wouldn’t expect too many changes. Personally I am more than happy to draw a line under one or two who continue to disappoint and there are some fringe players who have not been given enough of a chance to impress. I would advocate a drastic tactical change to test out what we might be able to offer with different personnel and a different shape (plus we should just be going for it now) but I doubt Laszlo will switch from his preferred system.
My experimental team to face Queen of the South would be –
GK –Deniz Mehmet
CB –Mark Durnan
CB –Tam Scobbie
CB –William Edjenguele
RM –Matty Smith
CM –Sam Stanton
CM –Willo Flood
LM –Billy King
RF –Paul McMullan
ST –Thomas Mikkelsen
LF –Logan Chalmers
Subs – Harry Lewis, Cammy Ballantyne, Grant Gillespie, Scott McDonald, Paul Quinn, Emil Lyng, Idris Kadded.
Key Player – ???? – I don’t really know now to be honest. The most reliable players in the team are probably only Sam Stanton and maybe Mark Durnan. The rest have been inconsistent at best with some really letting themselves down. I suppose I might argue Matty Smith but only because it would be great to see one or two young players lift our spirits a little and show a bit of fight.
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…
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.
1.No real doubt about this – Robbie Neilson. From the very start of this unique Championship season his Hearts team set the pace and were pretty much unchallenged as they romped the league. You could argue that Hearts had a large budget and the backing of a tremendous support but the story is more complicated than that as Neilson had to help rebuild the club that were very nearly on the brink. His team play effective and attacking football that has been too much for the other sides in the division and there is no doubt that Hearts are a top flight club. They will now hope that Neilson could be the man to help get them back to the standing they deserve but Neilson may attract interest from other clubs if he continues this impressive start to his managerial career. Credit too to Craig Levein and Anne Budge as they also played a major role in this Hearts revival.
2.Just like in the league table Hibs again finish below Hearts. Last season was a season to forget for both Edinburgh teams but more so for Hibs as they crashed out of the Premiership in embarrassing fashion. After that relegation the decision was made very quickly that things needed to change at the club. With a new Chief Executive on board (the very impressive Leeann Dempster) they moved to appoint an inexperienced head coach in the shape of Alan Stubbs. Things did not start very well for the former Celtic player and their early season form suggested that Hibs yet again failed to appoint the right man. Times have changed though and Hibs have been very impressive over the majority of this Championship season. They finished in second place and will be aiming to achieve top flight football through the playoffs. Even if that doesn’t happen Stubbs has Hibs moving in the right direction with the emergence of young talent and some decent transfer business (Scott Allan is the pick of the bunch).
3. In third spot we have another team aiming for promotion through the playoffs. Rangers? No, you must be joking! The final spot on the Championship list goes to James Fowler at Queen of the South. After Jim McIntyre left for Ross County the club didn’t have to look far for someone to take over the reins. For Fowler it meant having the job of a player/manager and becoming a full-time member of staff (there are only two at the club). He deserves massive credit for the huge amount of work he has put in this year. With a small budget and not many around him he has filled his time with more than just managerial responsibilities. Fowler and the Queens fans will all be looking forward to their playoffs but they can all also look forward to a bright future under Fowler’s management. He has good ideas about what he wants and he is a young, driven and enthusiastic manager with a big future.
Summary of last season – Livi were a real mixed bag last year. They never did have quite enough to properly challenge for playoff places at the top of the league but similarly they were never in really danger of being relegated. They started the season with Richie Burke in charge but he quickly departed the club and in September former Hearts manager John McGlynn was given the job of manager. A large turnover in players used meant that Livingston were very inconsistent last term but John McGlynn did manage to steady the ship to make sure that there was never any danger of having to fight a relegation battle and they finished the season in 6th place. At the end of the campaign it was announced that standout youngster Mark McNulty was to leave the club for a new career at Sheffield United.
Players in – Gary Glen (Striker, Ross County), David Robertson (Midfielder, Greenock Morton), Declan Gallagher (Defender, Dundee), Myles Hippolyte (Striker, Brentford), Jordan White (Striker, Stirling Albion), Rob Ogleby (Striker, Wrexham), Bradley Donaldson (Defender, Hibernian), Michael McKenna (Midfielder, Musselburgh Athletic).
Players out – Marc McNulty (Sheffield United, undisclosed), Martin Scott (Raith Rovers), Andrew Barrowman (Greenock Morton), Kyle Turnbull (Albion Rovers), Players released – Michal Habai, Nejc Mevlja, Mike Mampuya, Kyle Wilkie, Ross Docherty, Jordan Baillie, Taylor Black, David Bonnar, Dylan Clark, Jed Davie, Jack Downie, George Hunter, Kyle Martin, Scott Wilson
What they still need –At the moment it seems as though John McGlynn is reasonably happy with the squad he has. The team does still need a little bit of cover in certain areas but it does look fairly balanced and there are options around the park. They could do with a little extra defensive cover and a versatile defender would add depth to the squad. Possibly in the middle of the park they are still a little light so could also use an extra body in there. It might be the case that January will be an important time depending on how Livi start the season. Fans will hope that the squad is a little more settled this year and that they can get a bit more consistency in the team.
Key player(s) – Of all the signings that the club have made over the summer there is one that stands out. Former Dundee defender Declan Gallagher has signed on with Livingston this year and he will be one of the stars in this side. A commanding central defender he was a key part of the Dundee team that won last the Championship last year and he will feel as though he could have been a part of the Dundee side in the Premiership. There have been some well documented off-the-field issues in Gallagher’s personal life but if there is one man that can help keep a young player like Gallagher focused it is John McGlynn. Playing right behind Gallagher is one of the division’s best young goalkeepers. Darren Jamieson is a local lad who has risen through the Livingston youth ranks to become the team’s undoubted number one. He put is some fantastic performances last year and despite the odd dip in form he is a young goalkeeper with a great future.
Opinion on Livingston –John McGlynn is an experienced coach and will know what needs to be done to perform in this division. It is a very unique season in the Championship this year with three heavyweights being added to the league so Livingston will have to really be switched in if they are to perform well this year. The club will be one of a number of sides that will really benefit from large crowds visiting from (in particular) Edinburgh so the board will be pleased in the business side of things. On the park it looks like there will be a massive challenge ahead and it remains to be seen if losing their star striker will mean Livi can still score the goals to ensure they are safe in the division. Livingston have not invested heavily in their squad and in a season where they are guaranteed a few big pay days the fans would maybe have liked a bit more investment in the playing staff.
Prediction for this season – 8th
Queen of the South
Summary of last season – Queens finished fourth last year but it could have been (and possibly should have been) so much better. If it was not for some pretty horrible early season form then they would have been challenging for the title itself. For a time last year it did look like the early form could have spelled the end for manager Jim McIntyre but as the season went on the performances improved and they did manage to achieve a playoff place. They lost that playoff to Falkirk but the season as a whole was a success despite some poor early results. One thing that did make a difference last campaign was the fact that Queens turned into an incredibly difficult team to beat. They had a very good defensive record last season and they managed to see games out when they were ahead.
Players in – James Fowler (Defender/Coach, Kilmarnock), John Baird (Striker, Raith Rovers), Lewis Kidd (Defender/Midfielder, Celtic), Zander Clark (Goalkeeper – Loan, St Johnstone)
Players out – Derek Young (Forfar Athletic), Calum Antell (Free), Bob McHugh (End of Loan)
What they still need –Hats off to Jim McIntyre. This will be a massive season in the Championship and in preparation for that he has tied up his transfer business incredibly early in order to work with the squad for as long as he can. The team has been kept intact and McIntyre has added some key players to the squad to keep things fresh. For now the side looks complete and there are enough options in the squad so Queens can make changes in both personnel and tactically. Having a settled team and squad is rare so it is refreshing to see a team do things differently.
Key player(s) –The fans will be delighted to see the return of a player that made a real difference last season. Zander Clark is on loan from St.Johnstone and the young goalkeeper is well like by the Queen of the South fans for good reason. His arrival last year coincided with the improvement in form and he is an excellent young prospect. Someone else that will make an impact this year both on and off the pitch is James Fowler. It might be a bit of a surprise choosing him is a key player but he will bring a wealth of experience to this side at an important time and he is also going to play a major role in the coaching setup at the club. Kilmarnock fans think he could have still done a job for them so to get a player like Fowler is a shrewd piece of business for Queen of the South.
Opinion on Queen of the South –It looks like it might be a straight race between Queens and Falkirk for 4th spot this year. With the ‘big three’ in the league it will be very difficult for teams to break into that group so the challenge is to try and secure that final playoff spot. It is so crucial that McIntyre gets his side off to a better start this year. Queens showed last season that once they have a bit of momentum behind them they can win games very well but they will have to improve their results against the better teams in the league, something they really struggled with last season. Right now it looks like they have a better squad than the majority of the league but it might be the performances against Falkirk, Rangers, Hearts and Hibs that will ultimately tell just how good they could be.