Dundee United have now completed the first round of fixtures as they bid to escape the Championship. Our football writer Ian Roache compares and contrasts last season’s opening quarter to this one.
The final whistle at Livingston on Saturday was greeted by boos from fans worried that the Tangerines could blow promotion once again.
United’s supporters are still turning out in force – they outnumbered the home crowd at the Tony Macaroni Arena – but the frustration and anger was there for all to see and hear during and after that 2-0 loss. They are getting nervous that the team they love could be heading for another failure of a season.
United had appeared to be making a better start to this campaign than they did last year but the two now bear an uncanny resemblance.
After nine matches, the Tangerines find themselves in an unsatisfactory fourth place in the table – as was the case 12 months ago.
On October 15, 2016 they travelled to Paisley and won 2-0 against a struggling St Mirren side to move on to 15 points.
Their current points total is an improved 17 but whereas last season they were just three points adrift of leaders Hibs, this time they find themselves four behind the Buddies, who have transformed themselves from basement boys back then into league leaders.
Last season at this stage, the Tannadice men had four wins, three draws and two defeats. They beat Ayr United, Dunfermline, Morton and St Mirren, drew with Queen of the South, Raith Rovers and Hibs, and lost to Dumbarton and Falkirk.
This time around they have secured five victories, drawn twice and lost twice. The successes have come against Inverness, Queens, Brechin, Morton and Dunfermline, the draws against Dumbarton and Falkirk, and defeats to St Mirren and Livi.
So is it time for cool heads or is the finger hovering over the panic button?
Causes for concern:
- United should have been the Hibs of the division, ie a level above the rest, but instead are now just seen as one of a group of potential title winners.
- The lack of height from midfield to front, which didn’t seem to be a problem at Dunfermline, came back to haunt them at Livi and tactically-aware managers are using that against them.
- The defence, which until recently had seemed solid enough, was left looking stodgy and slow at both Livingston goals.
- The gap between the performance level at East End Park and Livi was worryingly large. When they should have been building on a great result, the players instead threw away momentum.
- Fans may decide to stay at home, particularly when it comes to expensive away trips. United’s support outnumbered Livi’s on Saturday but many more displays like that and the crowds could drop off.
Grounds for optimism:
- Play like they did at Dunfermline and, in my opinion, United will win this league. That is easier said than done, of course, but at least we know they can do it.
- This was the Tangerines’ first defeat in seven games so hopefully it’s a bump in the road rather than a crash into a ditch.
- United’s away matches so far have been against the “bigger” Championship sides, with trips to St Mirren, Falkirk, Dunfermline, Livingston and Inverness in that first quarter.
- Last season, even the United optimists knew that Hibs were likely to win the title, given their squad, resources and fanbase. There is no giant, green elephant in the room now so being crowned champions should be easier this time than last.
- The United fans may be cheesed off and not afraid to show it but you also detect that there is still immense goodwill towards the team and that they will be right behind them, as long as the players and management are seen to be doing their bit.