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6 Dundee United fringe players who could grab chance to shine against University of Stirling

MacLeod, No.44, is among those who could get a big chance this weekend. Image: SNS
MacLeod, No.44, is among those who could get a big chance this weekend. Image: SNS

Dundee United will not underestimate the challenge posed by the University of Stirling.

That is the message coming out of Tannadice, loud and clear, ahead of Saturday’s Scottish Cup showdown against the student underdogs.

After all, this is a side just three points off the summit of the Lowland League; a division boasting some comparatively big budgets and the cream of Celtic and Rangers’ academy talents.

They also claimed an SPFL scalp in the previous round, seeing off Albion Rovers 1-0.

Stirling Uni celebrate their shock Scottish Cup win over Albion Rovers. Image: George Vekic

Nevertheless, this weekend will provide United head coach Liam Fox with a golden opportunity to shuffle his pack; to give much-needed minutes to players who have been knocking on the door in recent weeks.

Here, Courier Sport analyses the most likely fringe stars to get minutes against Stirling Uni as Fox seeks to balance rotation with progression.

Ross Graham

Graham, a standout during the second half of last season, has found starts hard to come by following the World Cup hiatus.

He played the full 90 minutes in the Tangerines’ 3-0 victory over Ross County and got a minute off the bench in the Boxing Day draw with Hearts.

Ross Graham during Dundee United training. Image: SNS.

Beyond that, the Scotland under-21 international has been restricted to warming the bench, with Fox largely reliant on the mobility and flexibility of Scott McMann to the left of Ryan Edwards in the Terrors’ preferred back-three.

As well as his defensive ability, Graham’s raw physical presence would make him an attacking threat against a youthful University of Stirling side.

Archie Meekison

Meekison, 20, enjoyed progress on the international stage in 2022, making two appearances for Scotland’s under-21 side, while he shone in the final weeks of the 2021/22 campaign as the Tangerines qualified for Europe.

However, he has been unable to cement a starting berth this term.

He has made eight appearances overall, but his last three outings have come as a substitute on the 86, 89 and 89-minute marks, respectively. Little time to showcase his worth.

Against Hibernian last Saturday, with United seeking to retain control of the game in the closing stages and — one could argue — crying out for an injection of energy and composure in the heart of midfield, he was overlooked altogether.

The visit of Stirling Uni could be the perfect opportunity to start Meekison — particularly if Dylan Levitt is still not 100 per cent fit — and allow him to showcase his creativity against what promises to be a stubborn opposition.

Mathew Cudjoe

A player many Arabs would love to see handed an opportunity.

Cudjoe is an undoubted talent and has illustrated as much via various cameos.

Indeed, during the summer previous boss Jack Ross intimated that he was firmly part of his plans following a bright showing against Fleetwood Town. 

With United under new management, that has not yet panned out.

The 19-year-old has not featured for the United first-team since a substitute appearance against Kilmarnock in mid-October.

That can be partly attributed to the form of others.

Cudjoe would most naturally fit as one of the two players behind the lone striker in United’s shape, but Glenn Middleton, Jamie McGrath and, recently, Ian Harkes have performed well and provide laudable defensive diligence.

But having performed well for United’s reserve side this term, Cudjoe will be desperate to see some minutes this weekend.

Sadat Anaku

The Ugandan attacker was praised by Fox last month, but has only featured once since the Premiership restart — as an 89th-minute substitute against St Johnstone.

Anaku arrived from Uganda last summer. Image: SNS

While he has showcased potential on occasions, especially during a live-wire cameo against Rangers earlier this season, he was not even on the bench at Easter Road at the weekend.

And that was with Tony Watt not in the squad.

If he doesn’t feature against Stirling Uni — plausible, given Watt and Rory MacLeod are also fighting for a spot — then a loan move away from Tannadice looks increasingly logical.

At 22 years of age, Anaku needs minutes and, ideally, the opportunity to adapt to life in Scotland while playing every week.

Peter Pawlett

Pawlett is a different proposition from others in this list.

He needn’t prove himself. Everyone knows what the former Aberdeen and MK Dons man is about and what he can contribute — after all, he has played more than 100 games for United.

Pawlett is available once more. Image: SNS

However, he is desperately in need of competitive minutes if he is to play a meaningful part during the run-in, having recovered from a nine-month absence following achilles surgery.

It is hard to imagine a more perfect opportunity than this.

Rory MacLeod

The hype train is gathering pace. 

Newcastle United, Southampton and West Ham United are all interested in the Tangerines’ youngest ever senior player and, whether this month or in the near future, MacLeod appears destined for the big time.

Dundee United’s Rory MacLeod in action against Rangers at Tannadice. Image: SNS

However, it would be nice for Arabs to see a little more of this precocious talent before he potentially heads south.

The gifted striker has only started one game for United — rattling the post in a 1-1 draw against Celtic — and this could be the perfect chance for him to underline his promise and maybe even impress some watching scouts.