There have been a raft of decisions and mistakes which have led to United’s impending relegation to the Championship. Everything from managerial decisions to squad building to on-field disasters. It is a season which has brought a 9-0 and 7-0 defeat, two manager sackings, the departure of the club's sporting director and a January transfer window which may go down as the worst in Scottish football since 2015 when United sold Stuart Armstrong and Gary Mackay-Steven to Celtic. One thing is certain, however, this group of players will not be remembered fondly by the club's fans. There were boos during the first half, at half-time, as the players came back out for the second half, during the second 45 minutes, at full-time and, finally, when some of the squad attempted some sort of lap of ‘honour’. There are some really good players at the club but it has not clicked since that win over AZ and they have failed three different managers. The performance against Killie was nothing short of deplorable considering what was at stake. Players passing to the opposition or straight out of the pitch, individuals not carrying out instructions or getting in the face of the Killie midfield. It was feeble. After putting themselves in such a good position going into the split, the team are going down with a whimper.
United manager Jim Goodwin made a big call in dropping Mark Birighitti for youngster Jack Newman. Dropping the Australian was completely understandable, he has cost the team numerous points this season and can only have made the defence uneasy. But it meant a lot of pressure was on Newman. The 21-year-old acquitted himself well, let down by those players in front of him, the first two goals being handed to Killie by team-mates. He was one of few to garner any sort of applause from the home support. As for Birighitti, he has now been dropped by three different managers. A two-time A-League goalkeeper of the year, for the good of his career he’ll have to move on in the summer.
When the Kilmarnock XI was announced there were a number of surprise inclusions from Derek McInnes. Chris Stokes, Ash Taylor, Liam Polworth and Brad Lyons were all back into the team having missed the last two at the very least. Yet, they produced one of the team's most complete performances of the campaign, especially away from Rugby Park winning just their second game on the road. They controlled possession with Polworth in particular having the run of the midfield in the first-half, they put pressure on the home side out of possession, they used Kyle Vassell and Christian Doidge smartly, getting them in the game quickly and asking questions of a fragile United defence. Energy, attitude, composure was all on point. When it mattered this was a team which rose to the occasion while their opponents wilted.
Dundee United's awful January window has been mentioned, a window where they added only Loick Ayina, while allowing goalkeeper Carljohan Eriksson and striker Tony Watt to depart, leaving them short in both areas. On the flipside, Killie added Luke Chambers and Kyle Vassell. Both were excellent in the 3-0 win. The former, a player who opted against going to the Under-20 World Cup with England to stay and help the team, didn’t stop running and providing attacking width. Vassell is not the most refined of strikers but he is an effective one, an out-ball who is mobile and a constant nuisance. He bullied the United defence as he did in the win in the Scottish Cup game, while scoring two goals his performance deserved, the first in particular was a smashing finish. McInnes rightly singled out both after the match.
Super Killie Away
A final word on the Kilmarnock away support. It was estimated that between 1,100 and 1,200 made the 212-mile round trip. A superb effort and they backed their team throughout, delighted at what they saw on the pitch. Outside of Scotland’s – and this writer cringes using this – ‘big four or five’, Killie constantly have the best away support, both in terms of numbers and backing. This season in particular has been a tough one, just two wins, eight points and 15 goals from 18 games. Wednesday night made up for it slightly. But they truly are ‘Super Killie Away’, the fans anyway.