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4 Dundee United talking points: Tangerines go viral as road to rebuilding ‘trust’ hits Spartans speed-bump

Supporters made their feelings known following a dismal, albeit not terminal, defeat in Edinburgh

Jim Goodwin, Dundee United manager, on the touchline at Ainslie Park
Head-scratcher: Jim Goodwin cuts a frustrated figure on the touchline after losing to Spartans. Image: SNS

Dundee United’s 2023/24 campaign started in the worst imaginable fashion as they slipped to a chastening 1-0 defeat against SPFL new-boys The Spartans.

Blair Henderson’s early strike was enough to secure victory for the League Two side and leave United’s hopes of Viaplay Cup progression hanging in the balance.

While the visitors saw Tony Watt miss a second half penalty, strike the bar through Miller Thomson and find Blair Carswell in fine fettle between the sticks for Spartans, the Tangerines ultimately paid the price for their own dismal start to the game.

And travelling fans made their feelings known.

Dundee United's Rory MacLeod forces a save from Blair Carswell
Rory MacLeod forces one of several super saves from Blair Carswell. Image: SNS

Courier Sport was in North Edinburgh to analyse the action and repercussions.

Early defensive fragility and a lack of creativity

United’s new-look defence remains a work in progress.

Ollie Denham, while rangy and tall, was caught out by the aggression and physicality of the Spartans attack, particularly Blair Henderson. There were vast gaps between the on-loan Cardiff kid and right-back Kieran Freeman.

On the other side, the twinkle-toed Jamie Dishington gave Scott McMann a testing afternoon.

Spartans got in behind the United back-line with alarming ease as the visitors produced a comatose opening 20 minutes.

Mathew Cudjoe and Archie Meekison leave the field at Ainslie Park, Edinburgh
Meekison, right, and United’s standout Cudjoe. Image: SNS

The Terrors were one-paced and impotent in the first period. Of the midfield three selected — Liam Grimshaw, Ross Docherty and Archie Meekison — only the latter is a primarily creative force.

When Chris Mochrie entered the fray, he looked far more likely to make something happen, including firing one shot just wide.

Tony Watt was not at full fitness but fought for scraps. Glenn Middleton — a powerful first-half shot aside — didn’t affect the game. Mathew Cudjoe was the bright spark, always demanding the ball and attempting to make things happen.

The second half was a vast improvement, aided by the pace and movement of Rory MacLeod and Miller Thomson — the latter hit the bar — but far more solidity, energy and imagination will be required when Partick come to town.

The road to rebuilding trust will be a long one

Dundee United chief executive Luigi Capuano spoke of rebuilding “trust” with disillusioned Arabs.

Luigi Capuano, Dundee United chief executive, pictured at Tannadice
Capuano spoke of his desire to regain the trust of Dundee United fans this week. Image: DCT / Kim Cessford

It is a necessary aim, particularly given the club’s hope that the generosity of their fans will once again come to the fore in the coming weeks.

He emphasised the changes being made. New squad; new coaches; new backroom staff and recruitment philosophy. There was an acceptance that United got plenty wrong during their slide to relegation.

Yet, plus ça change…

Results on the pitch, an entertaining brand of football and, ultimately, promotion are the only things that will truly rebuild trust and mend fences. Until then, an unsteady truce will persist; one that was already wobbling on Saturday.

Dundee United coach Dave Bowman reacts to something said by a supporter at Ainslie Park, Edinburgh
United coach Dave Bowman reacts furiously. Image: Twitter / @DundeeDerry

Capuano endured some bracing personal abuse from exiting fans at Ainslie Park, while viral footage showed first-team coach Dave Bowman being held back after taking exception at one supporter’s comment as United left the field.

All of which played out against a backdrop of jeers from the 1000-plus travelling Arabs as the full-time whistle blew.

On and off the pitch, this was the exact opposite of what United needed as they seek to rebuild and create a nascent feel-good factor.

This was no Darvel — but United need a response

There will be a natural temptation to compare this result with Aberdeen’s humiliating reverse against Darvel under Jim Goodwin and, without a doubt, having both of those defeats on his CV within the space of seven months is lamentable.

However, the similarities are limited, other than both being unacceptable results against lower league opposition.

Darvel are well adrift of Spartans in the pyramid, just as United are now below Aberdeen.

The Tangerines — while far from brilliant — played immeasurably better than the dismal Dons did that night.

And United haven’t actually been knocked out of this competition.

Also, the Viaplay Cup has made results like this fairly commonplace. Almost every team enters the competition with a swathe of new players, undercooked and battling against an element of the unknown.

On Saturday alone, Stenhousemuir beat St Johnstone and Montrose bested St Mirren.

Last year, Hibs lost to League One Falkirk and the Perth Saints drew with Annan Annan Athletic.

In 2021/22, Airdrie defeated Motherwell 2-0 in a local derby.

On October 10, 2020, United were stunned at Tannadice as a Steven Boyd goal secured a 1-0 victory for Peterhead.

And so it goes on.

Tony Watt of Dundee United leaves the field at Ainslie Park, Edinburgh
Vice-captain Tony Watt saw his second-half penalty saved by Blair Carswell. Image: SNS

None of which will assuage the understandable frustration and ire following a chastening reverse at Ainslie Park, but goes some way to explaining Goodwin’s call for perspective.

Pride and finances already on the line

Tuesday’s visit of Partick Thistle now looms large.

It is a far more consequential game than Goodwin would ordinarily like to be facing on July 18.

In terms of supporter morale, building momentum as a squad and securing progression in this competition, there is no room for error at Tannadice.

And the latter is not to be underestimated in the face of United’s desire for financial fillips this season.

Dundee United's Mathew Cudjoe is halted by Jordan Tapping of Spartans.
Mathew Cudjoe is halted. Image: SNS

There is £55,000 on offer for teams that reach the second round; £87,500 for the quarters; £120,000 for the semis; the winners bank £380,000 and the runners-up £175,000.

Pride and cash are on the line in the coming week.