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4 Dundee United talking points: How proactive Jim Goodwin rescued a point at Livingston

Goodwin hails the travelling Arabs at Livingston. Image: SNS
Goodwin hails the travelling Arabs at Livingston. Image: SNS

Aziz Behich struck his fourth goal of the season to bag a precious point for Dundee United at Livingston.

Boss Jim Goodwin illustrated an ability to alter the flow of a contest as a couple of bright changes saw United — utterly outplayed and behind to a Steven Bradley opener at the break — battle back for a 1-1 draw.

The stalemate sees United move to within three points of Kilmarnock and Ross County and, crucially, they have a better goal difference than the former; within one victory of climbing off the bottom of the Premiership, in theory.

Courier Sport was in West Lothian to analyse the action.

Proactive and positive management from Jim Goodwin

Let’s be honest, Goodwin should never have been able to replace Kieran Freeman with Liam Smith.

Freeman’s tug on the arm of Cristian Montano was as clear a second booking as you will ever see. Only referee Matthew McDermid will know why he decided to spare the Tannadice youngster.

But Goodwin took full advantage of that reprieve.

He hooked the toiling wing-back within three minutes of that foul, as United were regularly torn apart by Montano and Joel Nouble down Livi’s left.

Goodwin’s tweaks paid dividends. Image: SNS

However, more than the personnel change, Goodwin’s alteration of shape was smart and entirely necessary.

United’s 3-5-2 meant that Freeman was far too isolated and susceptible to the overlap and, had Goodwin not switched to a 4-2-3-1, Smith would have been similarly tormented by the Montano-Nouble double-act.

Bringing on Kai Fotheringham for Sadat Anaku at half-time was also decisive. And the teenager grasped his opportunity, playing a part in Behich’s leveller and chasing back to aid Smith’s defensive efforts.

Goodwin displayed admirable accountability during his post-match media duties — but his proactiveness in fixing the issues ensured United moved to within striking distance of Kilmarnock and County.

In praise of Liam Smith

Smith has found himself the subject of a fair amount of criticism this term and, in common with many of his United teammates, he has probably failed to reach the standards of consistency and reliability that has characterised his time at Tannadice.

Then again, it is also worth noting that his best position is right-back. Over the last couple of seasons, he has been played in a variety of roles — wing-back, centre-half, midfielder — but rarely in his favoured one.

And, utilised as a full-back after entering the fray on Wednesday, he was excellent; a literal game-changer.

Allied with Goodwin’s smart switch to a back-four, Smith diligently got to grips with Nouble — unplayable for the first period — and, linking up well will fellow substitute Fotheringham, posed a real threat on the break.

Smith had a positive impact against Livi. Image: SNS

Despite only coming on in the 33rd minute, Smith made more clearances (six) than any other Dundee United player except Charlie Mulgrew (13) and Loick Ayina (seven).

He won possession back four times, the same as Behich and Ayina, and only one shy of Scott McMann, for context.

Considering Goodwin’s decision to drop him from the starting line-up for his first two matches in charge will have come as a hammer-blow, Smith’s performance against Livi was indicative of his character and professionalism.

Could Aziz Behich be United’s wing wizard?

One of the key reasons United have so often alighted on a 3-5-2 — or a variation thereof — is due to a lack of wingers. Beyond Immi Niskanen and Glenn Middleton, who has been unavailable for recent matches, there are few pacy wide attackers in the group.

However, Behich proved that he could be the answer to that conundrum.

He was terrific following Goodwin’s change of shape, with Scott McMann shuffling over to left-back behind the Australia international.

But for Anaku’s wayward finishing, his sumptuous first-half cross would have notched an assist. In missing from about three yards, the Ugandan passed up a chance with 0.74 xG, only 0.02 less than a penalty kick.

Behich then showcased how it should be done, clinically firing home the equaliser after ghosting in at the back post.

He is no stranger to the role, either. His most fruitful stint as a winger came while playing for Bursaspor in 2016/17, with Behich bagging five goals in six games during one particularly potent hot streak.

Could he be the speedy, direct winger that United have been crying out for?

A monkey off United’s back

If Dundee United concede the first goal, they lose. They buckle; can’t recover after a set-back.

That was the cry prior to their visit to West Lothian.

The Tangerines had conceded the first goal in 19 matches this term. They went on to lose 18 of those. Whatever the opposite of bouncebackability is — that’s what United possessed.

United bounced back from Bradley’s opener. Image: SNS

So, make no mistake, claiming a point from a losing position — particularly having been overrun during the first period — will be a huge psychological boost and something that will not go unnoticed in the dressing room.

Fight, guts and gumption will be required to get out of this relegation quagmire.

But they will also, at various points in the remaining 10 matches, find themselves behind at some point, so battling back from a deficit is a real monkey off the back.