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4 Dundee United talking points: The 50% stat that must improve and Jim Goodwin’s midfield minefield

Courier Sport analyses the action and looks ahead following the Tangerines' 3-2 defeat against Morton.

Disappointed Dundee United players trudge off at full-time against Morton
Disappointed United players trudge off at full-time. Image: SNS

Dundee United slipped to a 3-2 defeat against Morton as George Oakley ran riot at Tannadice.

The big striker notched a perfect hat-trick to put the out-of-sorts Tangerines to the sword.

United did show gumption to battle back from 2-0 down to restore parity courtesy of goals from Kai Fotheringham and Louis Moult – but that was ultimately futile.

George Oakley leaves with the match ball for Morton
Oakley leaves with the match ball. Image: Shutterstock

Courier Sport was at Tannadice for the Terrors’ forgettable first home match of 2024.

Uncharacteristic failings

United have not been faultless this season.

Amid a fairly consistent Championship campaign, there have been stodgy, frustrating afternoons and dropped points; the odd mistake or miscommunication in the back-line.

However, United’s defeat against Morton was perhaps the first time Jim Goodwin’s new-look side has been bullied in the league.

Kevin Holt – Courier Sport’s pick for the Tangerines’ standout performer in the first half of the season – and Ross Graham were given a torrid time by George Oakley. The goals were lamentable in their simplicity, if wonderfully dispatched.

Morton players and staff celebrate a fine triumph at Dundee United
Morton players and staff celebrate a fine triumph. Image: SNS

Meanwhile, Morton’s midfield three of Robbie Crawford, Iain Wilson and Alan Power smothered Jordan Tillson and Craig Sibbald.

That issue was scarcely remedied by the arrival of Declan Glass and Chris Mochrie at half-time, albeit it did somewhat even up the numbers in the engine room.

A response is needed in Inverness, and the first demand will be more aggression; to win the battle before seeking to impose themselves on the game.

The search for home comforts

Dundee United have now failed to win 50% of their Championship fixtures at Tannadice this season.

Dundee United supporters at Tannadice
The United faithful were left frustrate once more. Image: Shutterstock.

While those who predicted a canter to the title were always likely to be proved wrong in a competitive, gruelling second tier, the Tangerines SHOULD be better than that on their own patch.

In 1-1 draws against Dunfermline, Morton (the first meeting of the sides) and Inverness, the Terrors struggled to break down massed ranks and conceded a sloppy goal.

Against Raith Rovers last month, an even contest was settled by a single strike, a moment of Dylan Easton magic.

Saturday’s defeat to Morton was something of an outlier – as poor as United have been defensively in the league. 

Dundee United's home Championship record
Dundee United’s home form leaves something to be desired

All told, United now have only the fourth-strongest home record (above) in the division – albeit Airdrie and Partick Thistle have played a game more on their own patch.

It contrasts sharply with their outstanding efforts on the road (below), leaving room for improvement in DD3.

Dundee United's away record in the Championship
Dundee United have been strong on the road, particularly defensively

A midfield minefield

Goodwin now has an almighty selection headache for a testing trip to Inverness Caledonian Thistle on Friday night.

Depending on the fitness of Ross Docherty, United could be without their skipper and the suspended Craig Sibbald.

Archie Meekison also remains sidelined.

Goodwin will now be charged with crafting an effective engine room without several key performers.

Dundee United's Craig Sibbald makes the long walks after his red card against Morton
Craig Sibbald makes the long walk after his red. Image: SNS

Glass played well in a deeper role alongside both Sibbald and Docherty earlier this season. Could he craft an effective partnership with Tillson?

Liam Grimshaw could also step into the fray, allowing Keiran Freeman, who hasn’t played a league match since United’s last game against Inverness in November, to occupy the right-back slot.

United’s last trip to the Highlands saw Goodwin pack the midfield with an orthodox central three of Glass, Docherty and Sibbald. In lieu of his first-choice options, strength in numbers could be the sensible play once more.

The Tannadice gaffer has much to ponder ahead of the televised journey north and, if nothing else, the 15-day break that follows the clash with the Caley Jags appears to be coming at a good time.

Jim Goodwin’s refereeing complaints

United’s defeat does not lay at the door of match referee Iain Snedden and, to Goodwin’s credit, he made it clear that his team’s defensive failings were the primary issue on Saturday.

However, he was irked by Sneddon’s decision to award a free-kick AGAINST Holt after the big defender had shaken off the grappling of Kirk Broadfoot to head home a Glenn Middleton corner-kick.

Sibbald also appeared to win the ball when he was shown a second yellow card in the dying embers.

Quite aside from those big calls, the official’s handling of a feisty, physical – but never particularly ill-tempered – contest was fairly disproportionate, especially in the second period.

Barely 60 seconds passed without his shrill whistle puncturing the air. Some minor offences were punished with bookings; other more egregious fouls ignored.

He dished out TEN cards, before counting the dismissal of United coach Dave Bowman, and took his tally of red cards brandished to four in his last seven fixtures.

This was only Sneddon’s seventh Championship fixture in a career thus far spent in the Lowland League and Leagues One and Two.

Referee Iain Snedden flashes a yellow card during Dundee United against Morton
The familiar sight of referee Iain Snedden flashing the cards. Image: Shutterstock.

And just as United will seek to learn and improve after a poor display, the hope is Mr Snedden will also develop following an errant and unnecessarily officious showing in Tayside.