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5 Dundee United talking points: Remarkable Saturday 3pm jinx persists as size of Tangerines task is laid bare

Courier Sport picks out five key takeaways following the Tangerines' 2-0 defeat against Rangers

Jim Goodwin is keen to add more attacking flair to United's performances. Image: SNS
Jim Goodwin is keen to add more attacking flair to United's performances. Image: SNS

Dundee United remain rooted to the foot of the Premiership following a 2-0 reverse against Rangers.

Despite a gutsy, diligent opening half-hour from the visitors, a Malik Tillman brace condemned United to defeat at Ibrox.

The Tangerines are now winless in their last 11 league matches — and have eight fixtures to save their skin.

Courier Sport was in Govan to analyse the action.

Peter Pawlett exit was tough to watch

Watching Peter Pawlett limp off at Ibrox was a heartbreaking sight.

In footballing terms, it was a hammer-blow for United. The former Aberdeen man is an acutely intelligent player; he picks up clever pockets of space, surges forward and is capable of creating, and scoring, goals.

A forlorn Pawlett limps off. Image: SNS

That was illustrated when he skipped past Connor Goldson in the opening stages and scampered through on goal, only to pick out the wrong pass at the decisive moment.

A fit Pawlett is exactly what the Tangerines need.

But whether they will be able to call upon him? That remains to be seen.

Pawlett has worked laudably hard to regain full fitness.

He missed the vast majority of 2022 following Achilles surgery and, on his first start of this season — away at Hearts — he was the best player on the pitch before being withdrawn due to a hamstring injury.

Saturday represented the first time he has started two successive Premiership matches since December 11, 2021. So for him to only last 20 minutes was galling and there will be a nervous wait to find out the severity of the set-back.

With Liam Smith, Dylan Levitt, Glenn Middleton and Charlie Mulgrew all absent through injury against Rangers, boss Jim Goodwin will be desperate to see some of his senior stars climb off the treatment table in time for the run-in.

A defining four minutes

United have cause to rue four pivotal minutes prior to half-time.

As the clock hit 35 minutes, the visitors were restricting the hosts and the natives were growing restless.

There was some audible dissatisfaction as Craig Sibbald exchanged passes with Kai Fotheringham before unleashing a ferocious drive. It zipped narrowly over the bar.

The Tangerines were doing a fine effort of suffocating the engine room, forcing the Gers to play wide. They appeared content with Borna Barisic and James Tavernier whipping crosses towards Ryan Edwards and Loick Ayina, in particular.

But, before any ire could fester, Rangers claimed the lead. It was the first time they cut United open through the middle.

Goldson was given too much space to pick out a pass and Tillman was allowed to escape Scott McMann before lashing beyond Mark Birighitti.

A slick move but, as Goodwin noted, avoidable from a United perspective.

It was always likely to be an uphill struggle after that and questions will be asked about goalkeeper Birighitti’s part in the second goal, with Tillman’s strike squirming under the Australian’s body.

Next week will — and must — be a very different game

At this stage of the season and with the Terrors’ position so precarious, praise for ultimately futile effort and organisation is a little hollow.

United need wins.

However, there is every reason to think the visit of Hibernian next Sunday will be an altogether different contest.

Steven Fletcher celebrates his stunning strike against St Mirren in United’s last home game. Image: SNS

The Tangerines produced two draws prior to the trip to Ibrox — the most recent of those, a 1-1 stalemate against St Mirren, merited a victory — and registered 35 shots in their two home matches under Goodwin.

United will be charged with getting on the front-foot and, based on the early stages of the Goodwin reign, are capable of doing that.

Kilmarnock pile on the pressure

Eight games left.

Dundee United face Hibs (sixth), Motherwell (eighth) and Livingston (seventh) before a post-split fixture list against their bottom-six rivals.

With that run of games, survival is far from irretrievable — but do-or-die time is approaching apace, starting with the visit of the Hibees.

Kilmarnock’s victory against Hearts on Saturday means that United are now six points adrift of the Ayrshire outfit, who occupy the guaranteed safety of 10th.

The Tangerines’ goal difference advantage has also been wiped out.

Overturning a deficit of six points in eight games may not seem like an outrageous proposition but, for context, United have only picked up seven points in their last 15 Premiership outings.

They have won one league match in 2023.

Such statistics are no reflection on Goodwin. They largely pre-date his appointment and there has been an improvement since his arrival.

But progress must be translated into points if United are to pull off a great escape.

A remarkable statistic persists

United’s defeat ensured the survival of one of Scottish football’s more peculiar quirks this season.

The Tangerines are yet to win a Premiership fixture that has kicked off at 3 p.m. on a Saturday.

Their five wins have come on a Saturday night against Aberdeen, Wednesday evenings against Hibs, Kilmarnock and Ross County, and a Monday afternoon victory against St Johnstone on January 2.

The traditional time slot for football has not been kind to Arabs.

Mercifully for those of a superstitious nature, their next game is on a Sunday.