Dundee United fans were singing in the rain at Firhill on Saturday afternoon. Courier sports writers Ian Roache and Eric Nicolson assess the Robbie Neilson effect.
Optimism surrounding Dundee United, now there’s something new. How significant was that win against Partick Thistle on Saturday?
IR: It was huuuuuuge. The result has changed the mood around Tannadice, although it is correct to be cautious given all the false dawns I have written about in previous Talking Footballs. The whole club will get a lift from that victory over the Jags. I particularly liked the way they held on despite losing a goal with 13 minutes to go. Let’s be honest, how many of us feared the worst when Jai Quitongo made it 2-1?
EN: The benefits for United are obvious, which Ian has summed up. I also think there’s an important psychological aspect as far as United’s promotion rivals are concerned. Because it was the only Championship game being played and all eyes were upon it – the talking up of the ‘Neilson effect’ on the performance has got a lot of people thinking United are now the big-hitter in the league that they should always have been. They were becoming a bit of a laughing stock. Not any more.
Paul McMullan is the early poster boy for the new Robbie Neilson era. Which players do you expect to benefit most from the change of manager?
IR: You don’t need to be Pep Guardiola to see that McMullan has plenty of football in him and that it can be brought out on a regular basis by the right coach. He looks to be the most obvious beneficiary of the change as you got the feeling McMullan and Csaba Laszlo didn’t quite hit it off, to be polite.
EN: It is only natural that the Scottish players Neilson knows most about will benefit from the change at the top in the short-term. I also think it was important that Pavol Safranko played well at Firhill. He was Csaba Laszlo’s most loyal lieutenant – and is one of United’s best players.
Nicky Clark was thought to be the main striker for United at one point. Will he have to be patient?
IR: United are involved in a marathon not a sprint and will need to call on Clark before too long. I still think he will have a prominent part to play this season.
EN: The big teams need to go for the throat in many games in this league and that will mean playing two out-and-out strikers. Particularly at Tannadice, I’d like to see Safranko and Clark as a regular partnership.
A new manager bounce was half-expected against a poor Partick side. Is Saturday’s game against Inverness Caley Thistle a better gauge of the Neilson effect?
IR: It is but I am now expecting to enjoy my trip to Tannadice on Saturday and I bet a few fans will be saying the same. Suddenly everyone is just a tad more upbeat about United and I would now have them as slight favourites going into this one. Apologies to Mystic Meg (younger readers should ask their parents or even grandparents) but I am pretty confident that I won’t be witnessing a Ross County-style Highland horror show on Saturday.
EN: Wins on the road are all well and good but the home support has been starved of enjoyable afternoons at Tannadice. Ross County – still my favourites for the title – face
Ayr. This is an opportunity to close the gap on one or both. Inverness haven’t lost in the league yet – becoming the first side to beat them is exactly the sort of second week statement Neilson’s United want to make.
Dundee haven’t had a game but that hasn’t stopped them making news. What do you make of the speculation that they club are considering bringing in an ‘experienced’ coach to bolster Neil McCann’s backroom team? [NOTE: This article was written before news that Neil McCann has left the club]
IR: If I am reading things right, Dundee denied that Jim Jefferies is to be coming into the coaching set-up but they stopped short of saying that no one at all would be arriving to help McCann and his assistant Graham Gartland. It might just be that they will look elsewhere for that experienced old head.
EN: There is some logic to the concept – if true – but only if the idea was McCann’s and not from above.
The Dark Blues have Livingston away on Saturday. Can they match up to the battling qualities of Gary Holt’s side?
IR: What would have at the start of the season looked like one of the more winnable away trips seems pretty daunting to me. So did the Hamilton game but I would say the Dark Blues looked likelier to come away from Lanarkshire with something than they do from the trip to West Lothian. It will full-on and physical for the 90 minutes and the Dark Blues really have to win this one whatever it takes.
EN: Livingston’s lofty status may work in Dundee’s favour on Saturday. They won’t be able to thrive in the role of plucky underdog for this one. Dundee’s game-plan at Hamilton, and the same level of execution, may well be enough to get a win.
St Johnstone have come through their fixture list from hell. Are you worried there will be hangover from the Celtic hammering in Motherwell?
IR: I covered that six-goal beating and it was every bit as bad as the scoreline suggests. The Steelmen aren’t the Hoops, of course, and Saints often come away from these away fixtures with three points. They have shown bouncebackability in the past and I think they will be able to put the pasting from the Parkhead men behind them.
EN: There will be two teams thinking the same way – Motherwell’s recent fixture list hasn’t exactly been a piece of cake. I can see a draw here.
What do you make of Barry Ferguson being linked with the Kelty Hearts manager’s job?
IR: He will bring an extremely high profile with him – Kelty games might get shown on Sportscene (I’m kidding..) – and that should help get people through the turnstiles. He was one of the best Scottish talents of his generation and it will be an exciting appointment.
EN: The Kelty story is an intriguing one. Appointing Ferguson would only add to the feeling that this is a club heading to the SPFL. He is one of the biggest names in Scottish football over the last 20 years and you would have to think having him as your manager would bring in fans, attract players and create a fear factor for opponents.
It was a pretty grim few days for Alex McLeish and the Scotland team. Will they get the results they need in November?
IR: Despite having covered the Haifa horror show in Israel last week, I still feel Scotland will have enough to get two wins in these fixtures. Stick with a four at the back – I would go Andy Robertson left-back and Kieran Tierney right-back – and leave John McGinn and Stuart Armstong in the centre of midfield and we should be fine.
EN: The Tartan Army and McLeish would have every right to feel badly let down by Leigh Griffiths and James McArthur if they don’t answer their country’s call for the decisive double-header. The Griffiths ‘building up my fitness’ line was a nonsense and McArthur’s back can surely survive a couple of extra games. Even two wins won’t convince me that we’re going in the right direction long-term but I’m pretty confident we’ll top this Nations League group.