Everything about the United side needs to improve if they are to turn this campaign around, writes Alan Pattullo
Let’s face it, this hasn’t been good. This hasn’t been good at all.
Few teams can cope with the loss of three players who were at the heart of the attacking play that so thrilled Scottish football up to around the start of this year. No assessment of Dundee United’s recent form can discount the impact of losing Gary Mackay-Steven, Stuart Armstrong and Nadir Ciftci.
But even then, few would have expected United to be quite so poor this season. Jackie McNamara, the manager when United started the campaign, had plenty of time to assess his options and select replacements. No one is going to complain about the recruitment of Billy Mckay. But other than the former Inverness forward, there is precious little else up front for United.
No wonder they are currently trying so hard to secure the signing of former Liverpool forward Sinama Pongolle.
Rodney Sneijder, brother of Wesley, was barely seen before leaving Tannadice again while another former Ajax recruit, Darko Bodul, has failed to find the net in 11 appearances. He has recently been told he can leave.
Loan signing Adam Taggart, meanwhile, also looks far from being an answer to a problem that is summed up by a total of just ten goals from their first 14 games.
It was not so long ago that United were scoring five, six goals every game - indeed, this time two years ago, they scored at least four goals in five successive matches.
Injury to Ryan Dow, such a good stand-in last season, has not helped, while Blair Spittal, save for an outstanding brace against Dundee early in the season, has since flitted in and out of things. Mario Bilate showed in flashes that he could be a striker of worth but was undone by persistent injury problems and has agreed a deal to leave.
Again, this is an area of concern for United fans, who are praying the work permit application for new Japanese goalkeeper Eliji Kawashima is granted before this weekend’s return to action against St Johnstone.
Not that their current No 1 Michal Szromnik has been particular poor – indeed his recent performance at Hibs in the League Cup kept the score down to an almost respectable figure. But Kashawima sounds like the kind of character to bring back some stability to the backline.
New manager Mixu Paatelainen has already made his mark by bringing in Ryan McGowan one place from full back to centre-half. John Souttar, meanwhile, has dropped back to right-back. Some see it as a waste of his creative talents but it is where he started life in the United first-team.
New signing Mark Durnan has struggled so far which could by why Paatelainen is also trying to secure the return of Gavin Gunning. The return of Paul Dixon at left back has been timely. If Paatelainen can indeed tie-up Gunning, then this backline sounds robust enough to keep United up.
Now here’s a question. Ryan McGowan has tried manfully at the back while John Rankin is another one of the few not to have let themselves down this term at Tannadice. But can they be described as star men when their team is languishing at the bottom?
It seemed McNamara was living on borrowed time in any case after the contract revelations saw him lose the trust of many United fans. A run of consistently poor results then condemned him to the sack.
It was sorry way for a tenure that started so promisingly to end. Paatelainen has not sugar-coated what needs to done. He knows he must find a way of restoring some aggression and pride in the jersey. He has to make sure United become more difficult to beat by getting players to work harder for one another.
The lack of quality in the current squad could yet stymie him, unless he is able to bring in adequate reinforcements - something McNamara patently failed to do. United’s results since he started have hardly inspired confidence – they have scored only once, from the penalty spot, in his opening five games.
Must do better
Short of saying everyone, there are those such as Souttar, who possesses genuine talent, who the supporters believe ought to be hitting higher levels of performance. Billy Mckay’s goals have dried up recently save for a penalty against Ross County. If he starts scoring again then it would be especially pleasing for the United fans, since it would probably mean the team are creating chances again - that isn’t the case at present