Micky Mellon marked his first six months in charge of Dundee United with the club sitting pretty in sixth spot in the Premiership.
However, it seems he still has to win over a section of fans.
A points tally of 28 from 24 games is a pretty decent tally for a team that has returned to the top flight after four years away yet some supporters are unhappy with the Tangerines’ style of play.
Mellon has co-authored his new book, The First 100 Days: Lessons in Leadership From The Football Bosses, with head teacher Phil Denton so perhaps it is fitting that our writer Ian Roache has written a report card on the United gaffer.
1 – Signings
The pandemic has limited United’s transfer dealings, just as it has done to most clubs.
Given Mellon’s knowledge of the English market, more arrivals from there would have been expected had we not been in the Covid-19 era.
His six recruits can be placed into two categories – those who were considered first-team ready and those who were not.
Group one consists of Luke Bolton, Ryan Edwards, Marc McNulty and Jeando Fuchs.
The second contains Jack Newman and Florent Hoti.
Bolton, the on-loan Manchester City man, promised a lot in the early days but has seen his game time limited of late. He has shone brightly in flashes but also failed to catch the eye at times.
His highlight was the last-gasp equaliser at Easter Road but, overall, it has been so-so for the winger.
Like Bolton, Edwards’ season has been a bit of a mixed bag. He has played well in some games and not so well in others.
He certainly looks the part and brings physical presence to the backline.
One disappointment has been the lack of goals at set-pieces (Only Kilmarnock have scored fewer than United).
I remember asking Derek Adams, his manager at Plymouth, what he would bring to United and he was keen to stress goal threat.
He has scored just once, a header against Kelty Hearts in the Betfred Cup that was claimed by Nicky Clark.
Fuchs is out injured just now and the knee problem occurred just as he was getting into this stride in the middle of the park.
After a period of self-isolation and acclimatisation to the Scottish game, the Cameroon international was just beginning to excite fans.
There is more to come from him when he is fit (Stats that prove injured star Jeando Fuchs leaves huge gap).
McNulty, like Fuchs and Edwards, has missed out through injury lately but is free of it now. Watch McNulty in action for five seconds and you can see he is a player.
He would obviously prefer to start through the middle of the attack every time and has been limited to one goal against Kilmarnock.
Like the others, there is plenty of promise there but we have yet to see him at his best.
Newman is a young goalie who finds himself with the excellent Benjamin Siegrist and the more-than-able deputy Deniz ahead of him so will have to wait his turn, while Hoti was put out on loan to Forfar.
The conclusion is that it is too early to judge any of the signings conclusively but the main four have more to offer than they have shown.
2 – Tactics
This is maybe where many United fans will disagree with this analysis but Mellon has, on the whole, shown himself to be streetwise with his tactics and selections.
Some supporters may accuse him of being negative but better that than naïve.
Every point is a prisoner for newly-promoted teams and Mellon’s tactics have earned United a few precious ones along the way.
The caution is understandable against teams that Mellon considers to be stronger than his side – the Old Firm, Aberdeen and Hibs.
One suggestion would be that he should let his players off the leash more against the other sides in the league, particularly at home.
According to Opta, United have had more possession than their opponents in nine out of 24 league games.
Mellon’s greatest asset so far has undoubtedly been his goalkeeper Siegrist.
But the fact that the big Swiss has made more saves than any other top-flight goalie (79 in 23 appearances, with Ross County’s Ross Laidlaw nearest with 66 in 20) this season tells its own story of a defence that could be tighter.
He has stayed loyal to senior statesmen Mark Reynolds and Mark Connolly, with either Edwards or Neilson joining them if he wants to play a three-man central defence.
Once Liam Smith recovered from injury, Mellon seemed happy with him on the right and Jamie Robson on the left.
Further forward, though, it has been more uncertain.
Just over the last six matches, the central area of the team has contained a mix of Nicky Clark, Dillon Powers, Ian Harkes, Peter Pawlett, Jeando Fuchs, Calum Butcher, Luke Bolton and Paul McMullan.
Up front, it was the McNulty-Shankland combination before it became Appere-Shankland.
Neither of them are the club’s top scorer, of course, with that honour belonging to Clark (11).
United ranked fifth – behind Hibs, Kilmarnock, Aberdeen and St Johnstone – in a recent study by the CIES Football Observatory into the most settled Premiership teams based on minutes played by the 11 most-fielded footballers.
3 – What do the fans think?
The United supporters seem divided between realism and idealism.
There is a craving among a large section to see the team perform with more panache.
For me, pragmatism should prevail purely because it is the Tangerines’ first season back up. That is the path Mellon has chosen to follow.
Also, do aesthetics really matter as much as in the past when fans are not in the stadium to see the matches?
I appreciate they still pay hard-earned cash for streams and have backed the team brilliantly by purchasing virtual season tickets but they are not sitting a few yards away from the pitch in their seats, ready to offer advice to any player not getting the ball up the park quickly enough.
Of course, in an ideal world, United and Mellon would love to produce silky stuff all the time or even most of the time.
However, in this year of all years, the ends justifies the means when it comes to results.
4 – Youth development
There is a promise and genuine desire on Mellon’s part to play more young players in the first team between now and the end of the season.
As managers are judged on results, that could largely depend on where the Tangerines are in the table heading into April and May.
Having seen both players in action, United are blessed with two future stars in central defenders Kerr Smith and Lewis Neilson.
The shutdown in the lower divisions has meant a return for all the club’s loan players and we can expect to see a lot more of Chris Mochrie, who spent time at Montrose, in particular.
Logan Chalmers, who turns 21 in March, may not be classed as a youth but he is returning from injury and will be pushing for game time.
A lot was expected of Declan Glass in the summer but he was subsequently loaned out to Partick Thistle before suffering a cruciate ligament injury that ruled him out for the season.
Appere was the new kid on the block last term but has struggled for game time under Mellon, although he has started the last three matches against Aberdeen, St Johnstone and Hamilton, scoring against Saints.
Significantly, United have made the tough decision not to furlough their under-18s and will instead keep them training.
They should be applauded for that and it sends out a positive signal.
5 – Any challenges?
The obvious one is the pandemic and we should not gloss over it just because we are all perhaps tired of dealing with and talking about its implications.
Club owner Mark Ogren certainly doesn’t mince his words, recently speaking about the “financial havoc” cause by coronavirus, and Mellon has been constrained in his job as a result.
The Tangerines are expected to announce their accounts soon and they won’t be pretty.
They have also asked the Dundee United Supporters’ Foundation (DUSF) for a second cash injection to “assist in the recovery from the Covid-19 crisis”.
Mellon’s job description for this season will read “keep us up” and he is strongly fancied to do that with a little bit to spare. Top six would be a massive bonus.
6 – What’s he been like to deal with from media perspective?
Call me a crawler if you wish but the United gaffer is an interesting and even entertaining guy.
He thinks about what he wants to say and you never feel he is going to misspeak.
Mellon expressed himself with eloquence when asked for comments on the death of club great Jim McLean.
He also happily provides answers to questions that may be beyond his remit and never makes you feel like you’ve asked a daft one, even when you know yourself that you have done just that.
He has embraced his role as an ambassador for the club and it is a real shame that the virus has robbed him of direct contact with fans because you know he would go down a storm at supporters’ dinners or Q&As.
7 – Overall performance
The fundamental thing is that he has the team sitting in sixth place in the Premiership deep into January.
My natural caution – nurtured through four seasons spent covering United in the Championship – tells me Mellon still has a bit of work to do to make sure of safety.
However, I also have confidence in his ability to get the best out of his team.
Given the challenges he has faced – the financial climate, taking on a group of players with limited top-flight experience and having been unable to seriously dip into the transfer market – Mellon easily makes the grade.