In football a lot can change in a short space of time, sometimes from one game to the next. But on Saturday, when Dundee United goalkeeper Michal Szromnik made his first start since February, it must have felt like stepping into an alternate universe.
When the Polish goalkeeper was last entrusted with the gloves for a game at Tannadice, United were fourth in the table under Jackie McNamara with a place in the League Cup final still to come. They trailed opponents Inverness CT by seven points but still sat in what would ultimately become the final European spot. By comparison, St Johnstone, who would eventually take fourth and a place in the Europa League, sat in seventh, a distant nine points behind.
Fast forward to Saturday’s game where the hosts went into proceedings five points adrift at the bottom of the Ladbrokes Premiership, without a league victory since the second weekend of the season and having seen McNamara replaced with Mixu Paatelainen – the new boss accurately describing his players as “rubbish” in the wake of a 5-0 loss to Celtic.
With a new manager came a second chance for Szromnik. The 22-year-old repaid Paatelainen’s faith in him when, six minutes into time added on, United faced a free-kick on the edge of the penalty area. Dutch striker Alex Schalk went for goal but Szromnik was equal to it, tipping the effort over the bar and preserving the 1-0 lead which came courtesy of a Billy Mckay penalty.
“It was a very long six minutes,” said Szromnik. “The guys were very tired. We worked hard with some great pressing, great tackles. I couldn’t wait for the full-time whistle because the guys gave 200 per cent.
“It’s a hard situation for the club but the gaffer has given us a lot of support since he came here. He’s put in a lot of tactical things and we’ve worked very hard. We were a different team compared to the Celtic game.”
Referring to McNamara’s reign, Szromnik said: “The beginning of the season was hard for me because there were many surprising decisions. The last gaffer didn’t give me a chance. I was delighted when Mixu did.”
For his new boss there was no sentiment in the decision. With nothing working for United before the game, it was only natural he should want to change things around.
“It was an easy decision to make because I wanted to see Michal play,” said Paatelainen. “I told [regular first-team goalkeeper] Luis Zwick it wasn’t a reflection of how he played when we got beat last week. And Michael did well.”