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Where has it gone wrong with Dundee United’s defending?

Where has it gone wrong with Dundee United’s defending?

What has happened to Dundee United’s defence? Or, put more accurately, what’s gone awry with the Tangerines’ defending?

Because United, like most teams, prefer to stick to the “we defend as a team” mantra.

That’s in part down to strikers who work their backsides off to close down opposition defenders when they’re in possession.

And midfielders who track back diligently as well as an experienced back four and goalkeeper who know if they take all the credit when things are going well, have to take all the blame when they aren’t.

Mainly, though, it’s because manager Ray McKinnon insists on his players working as a team all over the pitch.

Under him, the sight of the main striker working across the other team’s back four to at least make sure they don’t have time to settle on the ball, and even creative talent like Tony Andreu and Scott Fraser getting back to help out in their own third of the field, has been commonplace.

It’s why until the last couple of weeks United have had a fine record when it comes to their goals-against column.

During the 14-game unbeaten run that stretched from late September to their going top of the Championship on Christmas Eve, just five were lost.

On top of that, not many more chances were surrendered during that time and, when they were, goalkeeper Cammy Bell was a match to deal with the majority of shots on target.

For what hasn’t been a high-scoring team this season, that was the vital ingredient in the success to that point.

In the four games without a win since, however, 13 goals have flown past Bell, though in fairness to him, his form has not dipped.

An alarming 12 of them have come in the last three games, culminating in the six they lost to crash out of the Scottish Cup on a miserable afternoon at Ross County on Saturday.

So how does such previously-good defending turn so bad in such a short space of time?

It’s a much easier question to ask than answer. If it wasn’t, the manager would have sorted things out at the back already.

Perhaps one quick explanation is that in the games against Hibs, Queen of the South and County, United were up against higher-quality attackers than in most games this season.

Championship leaders Hibs boast on-loan Celtic man and former Scotland star Kris Commons as well as Jason Cummings, whose double in the clash at Easter Road effectively won the game.

And, while Queens have been struggling in the league for a few months now, in star striker Stephen Dobbie they possess a player whose talent surely belongs at a higher level.

In the 3-3 draw at Tannadice the other week, the much-travelled veteran netted with one clever finish and set up another with a quality assist.

Meanwhile, at the Global Energy Stadium at the weekend, the physicality of old foe Liam Boyce and the pace of Alex Schalk were a step or two above the regular opposition of this season.

That, though, has only been part of the problem. Individual errors have also been a factor.

The opening goal at Easter Road saw two failed attempts to clear, the equaliser against Queens involved bad marking, as did, in particular, the opener against the Staggies.

People handed jobs have not done them at vital times and the whole squad will now have been reminded that, particularly against the better teams, switching off for even a split second can have catastrophic consequences.

Just as importantly, right now the players need to remember how well they can defend and get back to it.

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This article originally appeared on the Evening Telegraph website. For more information, read about our new combined website.