This was not the start to life as a Premiership head coach Tam Courts wanted.
Dundee United slipped to a 2-0 defeat against New Firm rivals Aberdeen on Sunday and, in truth, never looked like troubling Stephen Glass’ men.
There was the odd delivery flashed across the face of goal or dig from distance, but the Dons rarely left third gear and still claimed all three points.
An underwhelming 90 minutes, allied with Courts’ desire to put a positive spin on what was, after all, the first Premiership game of season have resulted in plenty of talking points.
Backlash to positivity
Following four successive victories and clean sheets in the Premier Sports Cup, it would be daft to start lobbing teacups, launching verbal volleys and bashing the panic button.
However, one can go too far the other way.
Courts has irked a vocal section of the United support by claiming the visitors were the better side in the first period at Pittodrie.
“On the balance of play in the first half, I thought we edged it,” he told DUTV. That video has quite ‘the ratio’ (a measure of negative engagement) on Twitter, as the kids say. And the replies are not pretty.
Via Opta Sports, Aberdeen had 66% of the possession in the opening 45 minutes, converting that into five shots, three of which came from inside the box. United had one — off target.
United were, as Courts pointed out, solid, tenacious (winning 56.8% of their duels over the full match) and tough to break down until Jonny Hayes scampered through to break the deadlock.
However, there was no respite until a bright final five minutes of the half. Lawrence Shankland was isolated, they turned over the ball as soon as they won it and they often found themselves in a 5-4-1 formation.
United improved after the break despite falling further behind, but it is tough to shake the feeling that their increase in territory, possession and shots were more to do with Aberdeen — in European action on Thursday — managing the game sensibly.
Fantastic Mr. Fuchs
The dynamic Cameroonian midfielder, who was only fit enough to take a place among the substitutes, is pivotal.
When Fuchs did enter the fray, he brought energy and verticality. He attempted 23 passes and touched the ball 30 times in the 32 minutes he was on the pitch.
As a reference point (although operating in different roles), Nicky Clark touched the ball 26 times and attempted 15 passes in 60 minutes, and Peter Pawlett attempted 18 passes in the full match.
Fuchs is literally a game-changer for United; he totally alters the pace with which United play and their ability to press the opposition.
Wrap that man in the most preservative cotton wool available in St Andrews ahead of the visit of Rangers.
Fired up Mulgrew
The frustration of United players was perhaps summed up with a hefty challenge by Charlie Mulgrew on Funso Ojo which irritated Dons boss Stephen Glass.
The collision — it should be said that the ball was there to be won, albeit the follow-through was ferocious — occurred at the denouement of a miserable return to Pittodrie for the ex-Scotland and Celtic star.
He was continually barracked by the Aberdeen supporters and his role as the ‘playmaker’ of the United back-three was made incredibly testing by a lack of options going forward and attacking cohesion.
Make no mistake, Mulgrew will be a superb capture for the Tannadice men this season — even on Sunday, only Ryan Edwards (54) attempted more than his 52 passes — but Sunday was a maddening Premiership bow for his new club.
Tannadice faithful can turn tide
A rendition of ‘JET will tear you apart’; roars of ‘USA, USA’ in honour of their new No.9 Christian Ramirez and owner Dave Cormack, and some Category A swears aimed at Mulgrew — and that was just in the space of the opening 10 minutes.
The absence of fans for 16 miserable months has only made the punters more determined to make their voices heard and the 6,305 fans at Pittodrie may as well have been 60,305, such was the fillip they gave the Dons stars.
And Dundee United can draw on the same spirit next week when more than 4,600 return to Tannadice for the visit of Steven Gerrard’s men; that positivity and passion willing the ball towards the Rangers net.
Sunday was a tough pill to swallow, regardless of whether one views the game like Courts or a disgruntled fan on social media — it’s all about opinions, after all — but it was only match-day one.
The discourse could swiftly be altered if United can turn in a swash-buckling showing at a raucous Tannadice.