Dundee United scramble to address striker crisis as Steven Fletcher misses key relegation clash

Dundee United’s hopes of top-flight survival have suffered a severe blow with the news Steven Fletcher will miss Saturday afternoon’s crucial trip to Livingston.
Steven Fletcher is out for Dundee United with a groin injury.Steven Fletcher is out for Dundee United with a groin injury.
Steven Fletcher is out for Dundee United with a groin injury.

The striker has been a ray of light in a challenging season for the Tannadice club and has scored nine goals in 37 appearances, but the 36-year-old missed training on Thursday with a groin complaint and 24 hours later was ruled out of today’s game amid fears his season could be over. Fellow striker Sadat Anaku has already been ruled out for the rest of the year with a ruptured achilles to further deplete United’s limited forward line options. It has left talented 17-year-old Rory MacLeod, who has yet to score for the club, as one of their few striker candidates, along with fellow teenager Matthew Cudjoe.

Winger Glenn Middleton, who has just returned from injury, could play through the middle but hasn’t started a game since early February. Attacking midfielder Peter Pawlett is also just back after injury but had been earmarked for a place on the bench by manager Jim Goodwin, who said on Thursday he was not ready to play for 90 minutes. This assessment might have to be revised but an additional complication is that Livingston’s synthetic pitch tends to be unkind to players who are short of fitness.

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Charlie Mulgrew is nevertheless willing to put his body on the line in aid of United’s survival effort in spite of those questioning his commitment to the club following his appearance at a tribute event for former Celtic skipper Scott Brown on Thursday night. United have three games in just over a week to save themselves starting this afternoon at Livingston. Mulgrew, 37, plans to play in them all.

“In the past it would have been a discussion between the manager, the physios and myself to see what is the best thing for availability for the season," he said. "But it’s the last week of the season, it’s all hands to the pump so if the manager wants me on the pitch to play I’ll be available. It’s the last games so I’ll be at it. I did it this time last year, I think we played Rangers, Celtic in midweek and then Ross County in the last three games. I played the first one, then 30 minutes in the midweek and then again on the final day. That was the same kind of timeframe. The fitness is there, we have done all the training so we’re ready for it, but let’s get the first one out of the way first.”

More used to winning trophies during six years at Celtic, Mulgrew has experienced relegation just once before in a career that might now be winding up. “Blackburn is the only time I’ve had to deal with it,” he said. “We didn’t survive and went down with record points for a Championship club relegated. It went to the last day and someone at Bristol City missed a sitter from 12 yards, they skied it over the bar and had it gone in we’d have been okay. So that just shows what can happen. As much as winning titles and playing in Europe is something you do want to have, this is the complete opposite.”