PAUL Hegarty has admitted the Dundee United management team are at a loss to comprehend their team’s shocking defensive record this season.
First-team coach Hegarty was left to face the media after yesterday’s 4-3 defeat by St Mirren at Tannadice, manager Peter Houston having left the ground soon after the final whistle for a prior engagement.
United have conceded 32 goals already in the SPL this season – 11 of them in their last four matches – to leave widespread pre-season predictions of a second-place finish appearing wildly misguided.
Hegarty, an accomplished central defender during his playing career with United and Scotland, could not find a reason for the alarming rate at which the team are conceding goals.
“We can’t explain it and it’s obviously very disappointing,” said Hegarty. “To score three goals at home and come away with nothing is hard to take. Some of the goals we lost were poor by our standards and it told in the end.
“It cost us in the end and we’ve had too many games like that. We did ever so well today to get back from 1-0 down to go in 2-1 up at the interval. We told them to keep it nice and tight at half-time but then we go and lose a goal within a few minutes of the restart. It makes for hard going and, like everything else, it puts us on the back foot all of a sudden. We have to try and rectify that.”
United now face a crucial trip to rivals Aberdeen on Wednesday when they will be without central defender Brian McLean who was sent off for a reckless foul on St Mirren midfielder John McGinn yesterday.
“If you go in with your studs up you’re going to get a red card,” reflected Hegarty. “In days gone by, you would have just got on with it but obviously the referee saw it and decided to send Brian off.
“That was a big turning point in the game. Just before that, Michael Gardyne had a chance to make it 3-3 and then Brian goes and gets sent off. St Mirren then had two or three chances before they go and score their fourth.
“It was end-to-end-stuff which is probably good for the neutral but not for us. It’s topsy-turvy stuff and that’s the way it was for the whole 90 minutes. For the fourth goal, their guy should have been closed down initially.
“It would be great if we could get a victory up at Aberdeen and start the new year in a better vibe. We have a game on our hands so we’ll have to be ready for that.”
David van Zanten was St Mirren’s match winner, scoring his first goal in six years. That alone would have been reason for his extravagant celebration but he explained exactly why he hoisted his shorts high above his waist afterwards.
The former Hibs full-back has been the subject of a charity bet among St Mirren fans who will donate over £1000 to Yorkhill children’s hospital for breaking his scoring duck. The alternative was a forfeit by Van Zanten who would have had to wear a Borat-style “Mankini”.
“It was the first thing I thought about when the goal went in!” laughed the Irishman.
“It’s a big relief. It probably would have been a good laugh if it happened but I’m happy that I don’t have to do it. Is there any chance of double or quits? Absolutely not! I hadn’t scored for St Mirren since 2006 so I was due one.
“The fans have raised £1000 for Yorkhill as part of the bet and that’s been paid, and others have said they would contribute when either I scored or wore the mankini. It’s for a good charity so hopefully people will get on board. I was given a mankini from a friend of mine, Rena, and it’s in my underwear drawer. I’ve tried it on and it’s not a pretty sight! The boys were gutted I scored. That was the first thing Paul McGowan said to me. He was absolutely raging I had scored as he was looking forward to me performing.”
St Mirren manager Danny Lennon, who hopes to sign Newcastle United midfielder Conor Newton on loan in time for Wednesday’s home match against Kilmarnock, was understandably thrilled by yesterday’s outcome.
“It was a terrific game and another great advertisement for Scottish football,” said Lennon. “It was a great way for us to finish 2012 and the key thing today was the continuous workrate of the players.
“We went through a difficult period when we lost six successive matches earlier in the season but we have kept ourselves right in amongst the pack. There’s not much between the teams from around fourth place down to 11th.”