Dundee United left searching for answers as Kieran Freeman makes 'none of us know' admission over wretched run

Spare a thought for these bold men of Morton. Houston, McCabe, Hinshelwood, Orr, Wylie, Cunningham, Beaton, Gourlay, Chatham, Fleming and Shaw.

Their efforts one afternoon in March 1957, so long preserved in the history books, won't now continue to echo through the ages.

In the space of a Sunday lunchtime, they were superseded by the likes of Kyogo Furuhashi and Liel Abada as Celtic inserted themselves as the worst nightmare to visit Tannadice Street. In terms of inflicting a worst-ever home defeat, there’s no argument: Celtic’s 9-0 win on Sunday trumps Morton’s 7-0 victory of 65 years ago.

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Indeed, it came uncomfortably close to emulating, perhaps even exceeding, Dundee United’s worst defeat of all-time: Motherwell’s 12-1 win at Fir Park in 1954.

It’s not often that true football history occurs in front of your eyes. As well as triggering further speculation about Jack Ross’s future, unfolding events at the weekend meant the record books of two long established clubs are now due amendments. Biggest-ever home defeat suffered by United, biggest-ever away win in Celtic’s far cheerier case. If you know your history indeed.

One thing’s for sure, another heavy defeat cannot be borne by Ross as his beleaguered Tannadice side prepare to make their way to the Tony Macaroni Arena for a Premier Sports Cup second round tie against Livingston tomorrow night.

The opposition have been a persistent irritation for United over the years. Falling to another defeat - certainly one where the number of goals would need spelling out in brackets on the much-lamented BBC vidiprinter - would surely represent a point of no return for the manager.

There’s evidence in United’s own history that suggests multi-goal losses can recur in quick succession.

The scoreboard at Tannadice displays Dundee United's worst ever home defeat. (Photo by Rob Casey / SNS Group)

Remarkably, the erstwhile nadir of the 7-0 home loss to Morton had been preceded by a 7-0 defeat at Raith Rovers in the Scottish Cup on 16 February 1957. United headed to Clyde seven days after the Morton result – and lost 7-1. Three successive defeats in which they conceded seven goals in 21 days.

The current poor run has already seen a 7-0 reversal against AZ Alkmaar to equal the heaviest defeat by a Scottish side in Europe.

Kieran Freeman’s words after Sunday's mauling won’t offer too much solace for United fans, but then it was not possible to offer an upbeat assessment from the home team's point of view after such a brutal 90 minutes. Worryingly, the full back admitted that no one seems to have the answers for the team’s frailties at present.

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United will have felt as though they had been repeatedly struck over the head by a blunt instrument. Even several of the goals seemed similar. And yet there also appeared to be very little the hosts could do about it. Their senses were frazzled. The ability to do the mere basics had been knocked out of them. Defend the back post? What’s the back post? The players hadn’t so much given up as gave out.

Dundee United's Kieran Freeman holds off David Turnbull during the 9-0 defeat to Celtic. (Photo by Rob Casey / SNS Group)

“Can I put my finger on what’s happened? None of us know,” said Freeman. “We are working hard to try to fix it.

“Nobody wants to be on the pitch or watching performances like that - it’s horrible. We just have to work harder and slowly get things right. If we had the answers we would have changed it already but nobody has had the answers recently. But we need to do it quickly before Wednesday.”

Livingston, particularly on their own synthetic pitch, rank very low in the list of teams United would wish to face as they seek to get their season up and running and reduce pressure on their manager. It is of course where Ross’ Hibs reign ended after a 2-0 defeat in December.

The West Lothian side have won the last three meetings between the teams – and eight of the previous 13 clashes dating back to 2018.

Even though his side might have made unwanted history twice in his short reign to date, it is surely too early to cast any judgement on the Jack Ross era – if era can even be used to describe a period of seven games.

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It must be remembered that Ross’s appointment was only confirmed on 20 June. He was unveiled the day before the players were due back. It’s not long enough ago to have forgotten what he said when asked whether this was a place where he imagined setting down roots and creating a Jim McLean-style legacy following a succession of relatively short managerial spells at clubs.

“I’m not consumed by longevity in a job because it is so difficult to predict how it will unfold,” he said.

No one could have seen this predicament so early in the manager’s reign, certainly. He said he was coming into the situation at Tannadice “with my eyes wide open” but one wonders if that could really have been the case. Players had already been earmarked to arrive. It was notable that four new signings found themselves on the bench against Celtic on Sunday, where they were joined by two high-profile senior players in Tony Watt and Charlie Mulgrew.

Watt and Mulgrew did not make an appearance even when things began to unravel so spectacularly. They are at least absolved of blame for this latest capitulation. Not so the 15 who did see action. Freeman claimed the players were still firmly behind Ross.

“It’s us on the pitch, the manager can’t do anything on the pitch,” he stressed. “It was us who produced a 9-0 defeat, you can’t deflect it onto anyone else but the players.

"It’s easy for people to say we are not playing for the manager on that performance, but everyone is playing for him. I can’t say everything’s perfect because of what we have produced, but….

“We need to look at the performances first and then hopefully a result will come. But we need to work harder than we have and try to put it right.”

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