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4 Dundee United talking points: Analysing Ross County video nasty

The Tangerines conceded three woeful goals against the Highlanders

Saturday was another afternoon to forget this season for United. Image: SNS
Saturday was another afternoon to forget this season for United. Image: SNS

With just three games left to play, Dundee United are rock bottom of the Premiership.

Saturday’s 3-1 defeat against Ross County leaves Jim Goodwin’s men two points behind the Highlanders and three adrift of Kilmarnock.

Jordan White ran riot with a hat-trick at Tannadice, with the defensive frailties that have characterised United’s season — assuaged to an extent in recent weeks — returning with a vengeance.

An almighty final push will now be required if the Terrors are to salvage their top-flight status.

Fans did their bit. The players did not. Image: SNS

Courier Sport was at Tannadice for a bracing afternoon.

3 goals in 3 stills

Goodwin lambasted the nature of County’s goals on Saturday and one suspects the subsequent squad debrief will be grim.

Upon review, this was a real video nasty.

For White’s opener (below), a completely unmarked Jack Baldwin — outstanding throughout — was allowed to head the ball across the face of goal.

Baldwin and Iacovitti are both left unmarked at the back post. Image: BBC Scotland

Even more damning? He was one of two players left gleefully free at the back post as Ryan Edwards and Loick Ayina were caught sleeping. Alex Iacovitti could have easily been the man to make contact.

The decisive moment for the second goal (below) sees Scott McMann outmuscled by Alex Samuel, allowing Nohan Kenneh to scamper through.

Samuel, No.25, outmuscles McMann, as Kenneh escapes McGrath. Image: BBC Scotland

The midfielder had already surged past Jamie McGrath and, rather than track the run all the way, the Ireland international goes to ground and fails to make a tackle.

The denouement to the attack is fortuitous, with Kenneh’s scuffed shot finding White. Even so, McMann — recovered and back in the box — seems totally oblivious to the centre-forward’s position.

The build-up for White’s hat-trick goal (below) is perhaps the worst of the bunch from a United perspective; the definition of statuesque.

Murray, centre of screen, is left astonishingly free for Cancola, No.4, to pick a pass. Image: BBC Scotland

As David Cancola sizes up his pass (having won a 50-50 with Ian Harkes), there are four players within five yards of Simon Murray — none of whom are touch-tight to the ex-Dundee man.

After receiving the ball, Murray is able to hit the byline and cross for White to slot home.

Full highlights can be found here.

Iacovitti and Baldwin

In reflecting on the goals lost by United, it is impossible not to look enviously at the performances of County pair Iacovitti and Baldwin, two-thirds of the Highlanders’ defence alongside Connor Randall.

The duo made a combined 19 clearances over the course of the game. United’s entire back-three registered a tally of 10.

No player made more interceptions (three) or won more duels (nine) than Baldwin.

More than the raw numbers, the eye test was compelling. Iacovitti and Baldwin hurried, harried and hassled Steven Fletcher all afternoon. 

County’s Jack Baldwin was imperious. Image: SNS

When that is compared to the way Samuel and White were handled at the other end? There is no comparison.

The shape of change

It is possible to become bogged down in discourse over shape and strategy.

The bottom line is: regardless of set-up, the sort of defensive mistakes United made on Saturday would have resulted in defeat.

Nevertheless, the switch to 3-5-2 from 4-3-3 was undeniably unsuccessful. The decision was made to accommodate Edwards following suspension to Charlie Mulgrew, allowing some semblance of balance.

The return of Mulgrew will be welcomed. Image: SNS

But Ayina’s defensive performance did not match his attacking one, McMann — after a few excellent showings at left-back — was poor and, notably, Aziz Behich and Ilmari Niskanen had their quietest games for weeks after reverting to wing-back roles.

United lost FAR more going forward than they gained in solidity.

The only real positive was that the system allowed Rory MacLeod to play alongside Fletcher in a front two and the 17-year-old was a real bright spark.

Nevertheless, with Mulgrew back in the fold for next week, it would be a major surprise if the 4-3-3 is not redeployed against Livingston.

The most cruel contrast

On this day 40 years ago, Dundee United were crowned the kings of Scotland at Dens Park; top of the pile.

This morning, they are rock-bottom. The threat of relegation looms.

The juxtaposition was acute on Saturday.

Legends of 1983, Paul Hegarty, Davie Dodds, John Holt, Hamish McAlpine and Maurice Malpas took to the field at half-time — score balanced at 1-1 — and were met with a wall of sound and colour by a packed Tannadice crowd. Just like old times.

Legends of ’83: (L to R) Paul Hegarty, Davie Dodds, John Holt, Hamish McAlpine, Maurice Malpas. Image: SNS

So, the way the subsequent 45 minutes played out was especially galling.

The fans did their bit. They were let down on the pitch.

United’s current Jim was seething in the aftermath; one can only imagine what Wee Jim would have made of it.

The Tangerines now have three matches in eight days to salvage their top-flight status and — allied with the immediate, contemporary havoc that would wreak — ensure the anniversary of their greatest season is not marked by a dismal relegation.