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4 Dundee United talking points: Raith Rovers flop NOT an option as nervy Tangerines stumble towards finish line

The visit of Raith Rovers could be a season-defining one. Can United hold their nerve?

A dejected Jim Goodwin following Dundee United's draw with Inverness
A dejected Jim Goodwin following Dundee United's draw with Inverness. Image: SNS

Dundee United are stumbling towards the finish line.

Saturday’s 1-1 draw with Inverness Caledonian Thistle means the Tangerines have won just six of their 13 games in 2024.

Despite moving a point ahead of Raith Rovers, it is a malaise that threatens to derail their title charge and is testing the patience of an increasingly vocal portion of the Tannadice fanbase.

Against the Caley Jags, a staggering Louis Moult strike was required to rescue a share of the spoils after United once again conceded the opening goal in a league fixture.

Rovers are up next. United only have 18 points left to play for. Room for error is dwindling.

A nervous Dundee United fan
These are nervous times for Dundee United fans. Image: SNS

Courier Sport was in attendance to analyse the action.

Nervousness abounds and first goal woes

United players and staff alike would dispute suggestions that the Tangerines are wilting under the weight of expectation.

But this looked a nervy outfit.

Jim Goodwin’s side shipped the opening goal for the eighth time in 12 Championship games. Is that pattern becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy? Playing on minds?

Wallace Duffy celebrates his Inverness opener.
Wallace Duffy celebrates his Inverness opener. Image: Shutterstock

Errant decision-making in the lead-up to Inverness’ opening goal – notably Liam Grimshaw desperately attempting to nip ahead of Arabim Pepple and pinch possession – allowed the winger to scamper away and claim an assist.

Declan Gallagher did an almost identical thing later in the half.

Rushes of blood to the head, and night-and-day compared to the Tangerines’ calm and circumspect defensive efforts earlier this season.

Every time Cameron Harper whipped in a free-kick – and a couple of his tantalising deliveries put United’s crossing to shame – it sparked a sense of panic.

And Inverness could have pinched all three points, with more slapdash defending allowing Jame Carragher to arrow a low drive towards the bottom-corner. Captain Ross Docherty, superb throughout, was the hero on the line.

Dundee United full-back Liam Grimshaw
Liam Grimshaw, left, was withdrawn at half-time. Image: SNS

With United’s Championship record at Tannadice now standing at an underwhelming seven wins from 14 games – and the title pressure cooker at boiling point – it is clear next weekend will be a test of ability AND fortitude.

Another big-game failure NOT an option

Aside from the centenary celebrations of their rebranding to Dundee United FC (a 6-0 win over Arbroath), the Terrors have failed to emerge victorious from almost every marquee fixture they’ve played since the start of 2023.

Disgruntled Dundee United fans
United fans will demand a result next weekend. Image: Shutterstock

Raith Rovers (3); every post-split Premiership match last season; the defeat to St Johnstone last February on an afternoon dedicated to the Premier Division winners of 1983; 10,000+ attendances against Aberdeen, Rangers and Celtic.

No wins.

If United produce another big-game flop then it could look increasingly terminal for their title hopes, quite aside from the ire it would bring from the stands.

A victory for the Terrors against Inverness would have ensured the visit of Raith was must-not-lose.

It now feels must-win.

Anything other than a home triumph and – given their game in hand – Rovers are masters of their own fate. A bleak prospect for all anxious Arabs.

Moult’s moment of magic

It is a real shame that a moment of outrageous inspiration feels a little hollow.

Louis Moult, left, takes the acclaim of his teammates
Moult, left, takes the acclaim of his teammates. Image: SNS

Moult would have rather bundled home a scrappy, scuffed strike from four yards in a 1-0 win, rather than notch a goal of the season contender in a 1-1 draw.

Nevertheless, the strength, awareness and technique required to hold off Cammy Kerr, spot Mark Ridgers off his line and then beat the Inverness goalkeeper from near the half-way line should be toasted.

Arriving at Tannadice last summer with doubts regarding his durability following two years of injury hell, Moult has played 33 games and found the net 16 times. A fine campaign.

However, United would not have been reliant on an inconceivable wonder-goal if they had snaffled some of their more inviting opportunities.

Louis Moult celebrates his stunning strike
Moult celebrates his stunning strike. Image: SNS

Tony Watt failed to convert when clean through, Docherty and Glenn Middleton both missed close-range headers and Declan Gallagher struck the post before Ross Graham was denied by Ridgers on the rebound.

Raith arrive in Tayside on the back of three successive clean sheets next weekend.

A more clinical touch is essential.

Kevin Holt hammer-blow and sorely missed McMann

United defender Kevin Holt will undergo a scan at the start of this week after plunging to the turf with a knee issue on Saturday.

He left Tannadice on crutches and it is understood initial fears are that the injury is similar to the set-back that kept him out for two months with Partick Thistle last season – albeit United hope it is not quite as severe.

Nevertheless, it would be fair to surmise that Holt faces a race against time to play any part in the remainder of the season, with just six weeks left.

Kevin Holt of Dundee United on crutches
Holt leaves on crutches. Image: SNS

The Terrors can take some solace from the fact Ross Graham looked assured during his recent run in the United side. He has played a part in 11 clean sheets from 18 appearances.

St Johnstone loanee Sam McClelland is also an option.

However, Holt’s prospective absence also robs Goodwin of another option at left-back, with Scott McMann sorely missed on Saturday.

Miller Thomson and Glenn Middleton both deputised over the course of the contest (should Goodwin have fielded Holt there and brought in Graham at centre-back?) with limited success.

McMann is pushing to be fit for the visit of Rovers.

It feels essential that he makes it.