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4 Dundee United talking points: Unsung hero lives up to goal vow while dam bursts for Watt and Middleton

Scott McMann found notched his first goal in 77 outings for the Tangerines.

Dundee United players assemble to hail Scott McMann
Dundee United players assemble to hail McMann. Image: SNS

Dundee United recovered from an early set-back to hammer Queen’s Park 4-1 and retain their place at the summit of the Championship.

Jack Thomson gave the Spiders a shock lead after just 43 seconds — but that would be as good as it got for Robin Veldman’s side.

A Tony Watt brace and goals from Scott McMann and Kai Fotheringham completed a comprehensive turnaround, extending the Tangerines’ unbeaten run in all competitions to 10 games.

Courier Sport was at Tannadice to analyse the action.

Glenn Middleton and the devastating left wing

Like Watt, Louis Moult and Declan Gallagher, the weight of expectation hangs heavily on Middleton this season.

Dundee United winger Glenn Middleton in full flow against the Spiders
Glenn Middleton in full flow against the Spiders. Image: Shutterstock / Richard Wiseman

As players with ample talent and Premiership pedigree — indeed, some with European and international experience — they are expected to be standouts in the second tier; to put up league-leading numbers; to “stroll it”.

That is perhaps unreasonably reductive.

Nevertheless, Middleton’s lack of goals and assists — one assist since United’s opening day win at Arbroath — had been a persistent talking point in recent weeks, with Fotheringham snapping at his heels for a start.

However, the former Rangers and St Johnstone man has been a creative force.

As illustrated below (in data before Saturday’s game), Middleton has been among the club’s top performers in terms of average xG (expected goals) assisted and key passes per game.

Glenn Middleton scatter chart showing Dundee United creativity
Glenn Middleton’s creativity even prior to Saturday’s man of the match showing. Image: StatsBomb

And the dam burst against the Spiders, with Middleton racking up THREE assists during a superb showing.

The sumptuous way he set-up Fotheringham for the fourth goal of the afternoon was delightful, turning Tommy Robson inside-out before producing the most perfect chipped cross.

Dundee United's pass network against Queen's Park, via StatsBomb
Dundee United’s pass network on Saturday, showing potency on the left. Image: StatsBomb

Middleton and McMann tormented their visitors all afternoon, with the left side of the United attack their most productive area, underlined by the Tangerines’ pass network above.

McMann proves as good as his word

“I’m sure one will go in at some point,” McMann told Courier Sport following his standout showing on the opening day of the Championship season against Arbroath. “I can hit the ball well and I definitely feel like I can contribute.”

McMann had rattled the post with a thunderbolt from distance that evening as United romped to a 4-0 win.

Nevertheless, it was still a bold prediction. After all, he had NEVER scored for the Tangerines. His previous goal came in the colours of Hamilton in May 2021 — taking his career tally to five.

Scott McMann scored his first Dundee United goal
Scott McMann slots home a rare goal. Image: Shutterstock / Richard Wiseman.

But McMann proved as good as his word against Queen’s Park, rippling the net with a cool, composed finish at the back post after a Declan Glass cross was diverted into his path by the slightest of Tony Watt touches.

On his 77th appearance for United, his name was finally on the scoresheet.

And it is the least the resurgent full-back deserves following a fine start to the season.

McMann was a tireless attacking presence down the left flank on Saturday. Only Middleton (five) made more key passes than his two (level with Glass).

In the United side, only Kevin Holt (seven) boasted more combined tackles and interceptions than McMann’s six (tied with Liam Grimshaw).

An excellent campaign continues.

Tony Watt eases strike fears

The absence of Moult from the starting line-up may have sparked fears among some anxious Arabs regarding where United’s goal threat would come from. After all, Watt had not rippled the net since April.

However, he remains a very capable No.9.

Perhaps a victim of his own versatility, he has rarely operated as an out-and-out striker for the Tangerines; deployed on the wing by Tam Courts and Jack Ross, and playing second fiddle to Steven Fletcher under Liam Fox.

When given a chance to lead the line — St Johnstone, Aberdeen, Ross County — he illustrated a goalscoring ability, even during a forgettable 2022/23 campaign.

On Saturday, he passed up a couple of decent headed opportunities in the first half before slamming home from a Middleton cut-back to restore parity.

His second of the afternoon was a clinical, instinctive finish at the back post; confidence clearly restored.

Tony Watt after scoring for Dundee United
Watt celebrates his strike. Image: Wise Media/Richard Wiseman/Shutterstock

Watt posted seven shots on goal, had 14 touches in the box (Fotheringham was the only other player in double figures) and won five aerial duels, more than anyone else on the pitch.

A complete striker’s performance.

First quarter nears a close — with toughest tests yet

The end of the first quarter is ordinarily the first major waypoint of a league campaign.

Every opponent has been faced, and a sense of whether a promotion push or a relegation battle lies ahead is starting to emerge.

United are approaching that stage.

Dundee United fans at Tannadice
United fans can be content with their side’s efforts so far this term. Image: Shutterstock / Richard Wiseman

And the two fixtures that will close out this quarter will afford them a superb opportunity to extend their lead at the summit of the Championship and lay down a powerful marker.

Jim Goodwin’s men visit second-placed Raith Rovers — just one point behind the Terrors, with four wins from their last five league games — before an away game against Partick Thistle, in third spot and having already beaten United this term.

The SPFL Trust Trophy tie at Peterhead in between pales in significance compared to those testing away days.

If United were to emerge from Kirkcaldy and Maryhill with full points — a tough task — their title charge would be at full steam at the end of the first round of fixtures.