Dundee United’s competitive opener against Kelty Hearts will be a leap into the unknown — even if Thomas Courts did cut his teeth in management with the Fifers.
The return to New Central Park represents Courts’ maiden fixture in charge of United on a permanent basis.
It is Kevin Thomson’s dugout debut in senior coaching for the hosts.
It is Kelty’s first outing as an SPFL club following their promotion from the Lowland League last term, and they could field as many as seven new faces.
However, there has been plenty to glean from the Maroon Machine’s pre-season to date, from their impressive recruitment campaign to their final friendly against Montrose on Saturday — a 1-1 draw attended by Courier Sport.
So just how dangerous an opponent will Kelty be for their Premiership opponents?
Kelty Hearts will, inevitably, be more cautious against United than they were against Montrose. That much is common sense.
Nevertheless, you can see how Thomson would ideally like his side to operate; moving the ball with pace and encouraging fluid positioning in the final third, especially involving Jamie Barjonas, Joe Cardle and Kallum Higginbotham.
He fielded a 4-3-3 against the Links Park men on Saturday, which could, with minimal tweaks (and wingers Cardle and Higginbotham taking more defensive responsibilities), become a 4-5-1 when United come to town.
“We are building relationships and building an identity in how we want to play,” boss Thomson told Courier Sport. “We want to create a team that works hard and plays in a way that makes the town proud.”
In skipper Michael Tidser, Kelty have a superb midfield orchestrator who makes the team tick, Barjonas is given licence to drive forward and Thomas Reilly a constant buzzbomb of energy.
With Cardle more than happy to drift in from the left flank, that creates ample space on the wing, with flying left-back Reis Peggie one to watch on the overlap.
Nathan Austin’s goal exploits are well-documented and need little introduction to the public or Dundee United. Put simply, the former Inverness and Falkirk man will lead the line for Kelty — and will most likely score if given half a chance.
Higginbotham and Cardle
Kelty’s wide players are Championship talents, even if they are on the books of a League Two club.
The duo have a ready-made understanding from their time together at Dunfermline. In the two years they were in the same side between 2016 and 2018, Higginbotham and Cardle provided — either scoring or assisting — 68 goals for the Pars.
One suspects their rapport, on and off the pitch, is destined to make them almost unplayable in League 2 in the coming campaign (both players remain in terrific physical shape) and a real threat to the United back-line.
Cardle scored Kelty’s goal against Montrose at the weekend — a fine, instinctive drive after Austin saw a low shot saved — and repeatedly showed a willingness to surge into the box.
He and Higginbotham repeatedly swapped wings, ensuring neither full-back was able to read whether their opponent was more comfortable driving inside or going on the outside; something Liam Smith and Adrian Sporle must be alive to.
While Kelty’s marquee arrivals have come in the form of Cardle, Forster and Barjonas, the raw, unfettered potential of Alfie Agyeman is not to be underestimated.
The Ghanaian 21-year-old, who grew up in Italy, was signed from BSC Glasgow and has previously been on the books of Motherwell and Queen’s Park.
Agyeman entered the fray as a second-half substitute against Montrose — a role he is likely to occupy on Friday night — and ignited the contest with pace, power and direct running. He is a potential wildcard.
“Alfie is raw and off the cuff,” added Thomson. “But I think he could be really effective at this level because of how direct and fast he is.” Former Swansea youngster Botti Biabi is another attacking option from the bench.
In Dougie Hill, Kelty have a vastly experienced defensive lynchpin with bags of SPFL pedigree.
However, Jordon Forster — a summer arrival after being released by Dundee — missed out at the weekend with a ‘slight niggle’ and Thomson will hope he is back in time for the United clash.
Ross Philp, ordinarily a midfielder, had to be deployed at right-back and, while he was excellent, it is not a familiar role.
Peggie, a bundle of energy at left-back, was signed from East Stirlingshire and failed to start a league game during stints with Falkirk and Alloa.
The back-line lacks the same impressive array of proven SPFL talent which can be found higher up the pitch for Kelty and the likes of Logan Chalmers and Lawrence Shankland could take advantage.