How Dundee United are using Steven Fletcher to survive relegation, direct stats, tactical tweak, goal target
Steven Bradely gave the home side a deserved first-half lead, but it could and really should have been more. Livi’s profligacy allowed Jim Goodwin to make the necessary changes, which helped them earn what could be a valuable point with the new manager admitting he got it wrong with his system in the first half.
The Goodwin-era at Tannadice is only be 180 minutes old, so early conclusions come with the caveat of small sample size. Yet, there have been early notable signs. There has been a tactical flexibility, with the ex-Abedeen boss making a key system switch to 4-2-3-1 in the Livingston draw. But it has been more around the purpose and attitude of the side. There is an increased aggression in how they approach games and they appear to be going down the direct route for survival.
Take the loss at home to Aberdeen at the weekend. While they may have been beaten 3-1, they put in an impressive first-half performance. Steven Fletcher is the team's focal point and United made sure to make use of him. This season he averages 16.83 aerial duels per 90 minutes in the Premiership. After all, he is excellent in the air. Over the years he has cultivated a fine leap, hang time and the ability to bring others into play expertly. His success rate in the air is 53 per cent.
Against Aberdeen he was involved in 38 aerial duels. At Livingston it was 29. Of those 67 across two games, he won 38. A hugely impressive 56.7 per cent, a figure centre-backs would be proud of. If it’s the case of Goodwin encouraging his team to hit Fletcher and play off the former Scotland and Hibs star, it makes sense. United 63 and 60 long passes in their previous two matches, above their season average of 53.93.
Ahead of the Livi game, Goodwin spoke about the 35-year-old forward. “If we can keep Fletch getting into those areas and keep supplying him then I am convinced he will score half-a-dozen goals between now and the end of the season,” he said.
Despite only one goal in his last 12, Fletcher brings so much to the team as an attacking platform. The onus is on Goodwin to get players into the final third and close to him. That is how he will thrive. Crosses coming in from wide which he can attack and players getting beyond him or combining with him centrally.
There was encouragement on that end against Aberdeen, with United peppering the Dons’ box at times with crosses. Their 27 was far above their league average of 16.79. A switch in the second half to a 4-2-3-1 could help. Full-back Aziz Behich pushed up on the left wing and gave United more thrust and penetration out wide. They now also have the promising Kai Fotheringham and Goodwin also knows the danger Jamie McGrath possesses from a central attacking position.
United are not in action until they welcome another of Goodwin’s former clubs, St Mirren, to Tannadice on March 18. Plenty of time to finesse the best tactic to survive.
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