How one of Scottish football's most intriguing clubs were surprisingly familiar on week one

On the eve of the new season, Dundee United sporting director Tony Asghar spoke exclusively to Sky Sports to explain the new strategy at Tannadice after a summer of intrigue which saw Micky Mellon, the experienced manager who kept United clear of the relegation spots in their first season back, allowed to walk and replaced with relatively-unexperienced successor Tam Courts, the club’s head of tactical performance.

Dundee United's players trudge off at full-time after losing 2-0 to Aberdeen on opening weekend. Picture: SNS

Fans already unsure about the new direction became increasingly anxious as the summer days ticked by and it became apparent the early additions of Charlie Mulgrew and Trevor Carson would be the only ones prior to the new campaign.

Asghar insisted he’d full confidence the club were doing the right thing. Instead of bringing in a raft of players, as most Scottish teams do every summer, they’d instead be heavily supplementing the first-team squad with a number of impressive youngsters coming through, while they had identified Courts as the ideal man to polish these rough diamonds.

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Asghar also spoke of United embracing modern coaching techniques as they sought to prioritise development over acquisition, while a prior Q&A with a supporters’ group made it clear the club’s hierarchy were not impressed by Mellon’s negative tactics.

So there was a decent amount of curiosity around the Tangerines as they took on east coast rivals Aberdeen at Pittodrie on Sunday, particularly as the Dons are enjoying a revolution of their own under Stephen Glass as the pragmatic style witnessed under previous boss Derek McInnes has been completely binned in favour of an expansive attacking approach. But while the home side lived up to their billing, United were… much the same?

The visitors started in a 3-4-3 formation that’s been the signature of their pre-season, though it largely worked as a 5-4-1 for most of the opening period as they sat deep and left Lawrence Shankland isolated in attack, which would have been frustratingly familiar for the striker and those who suffered this gameplan on a consistent basis last term. After going a goal down, they had a brief revival as supporting attackers Peter Pawlett and Nicky Clark got significantly closer to their star striker, and they would rue a great opportunity spurned by Ian Harkes right at the end of half, though they were right back into the two defensive banks once the second period got underway and did very little of note once Christian Ramirez put the hosts 2-0 ahead.

As for the team itself, Jamie Robson at left wing-back was comfortably the youngest at 23. Logan Chalmers (21) and Chris Mochrie (18) came off the bench in the second period, but it wasn’t the first glimpse of a youth-inspired transformation many of us had expected given United’s recent actions and words.

Courts was being understandably practical, which shows he’s not an idealist or naive romantic and could, therefore, suggest he will have what it takes to be a success. Away to Aberdeen, on paper, is going to be one of the toughest fixtures United will face this campaign, while it makes little sense to throw in young players when there are experienced and, likely, better professionals still within the squad.

But it must be said: Tam Courts’ Dundee United looked a lot like Micky Mellon’s. If a revolution is coming, it’s not happening overnight.

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