Untried at SPFL level and reasonably tenderly-aged for a head coach at 39 when he was promoted (he is now 40), there was scepticism that former Kelty Hearts chief could build upon a solid foundation laid by predecessor Micky Mellon before he returned to England in June.
Courts’ selection had the slight air of Hearts turning to untried head coach Ian Cathro back in 2016, which did not work: a well-regarded youth coach being thrust into the limelight. That’s where the comparison should end, though. Courts is currently proving his doubters wrong.
Which is why it was slightly surprising to hear the Kirkcaldy-born manager speak about the imposter syndrome he sometimes suffers from in these early days of his Dundee United tenure. In the wake of vanquishing city rivals Dundee at a boisterous Tannadice, Courts was very open with how he feels in his current role.
“I still have loads of doubt, I have doubts every week…” he said. “In a manager’s job, you know what it’s like. Sometimes you’re high, sometimes you’re low. The key thing for me is to remain focused and calm.
“When I first got the job, there was a furore. You couldn’t ignore that. It was a real test of my own mentality and my own belief in myself. I’m just working to the best of my abilities here.”
Courts deserves a fair dollop of praise for what he is doing at Dundee United. They have already taken the scalp of champions Rangers this season and have recovered well from a very poor opening-day performance away at Aberdeen, where they were soundly beaten. Defensively, they are well-drilled, marshalled by the experienced Charlie Mulgrew, while in midfield he is getting the best out of Jeando Fuchs, a Cameroonian internationalist with plenty of potential. They are still a little underwhelming in the final third, and they need to create more chances for striker Marc McNulty, but Courts will hope to get Finnish signing Ilmari Niskanen fit and firing. Remember, Courts is operating without Lawrence Shankland’s abilities, the Scotland striker sold to Germinal Beerschot last month.
Courts’ opposite number, James McPake, got involved in pre-match mind-games, saying Courts had the unenviable task of deciding whether to restore fit-again goalkeeper Benjamin Siegrist or stick with deputy Trevor Carson, who had been playing well. Courts plumped for Siegrist and the Swiss was flawless on Sunday. Courts got the big decision correct.
United’s derby matchwinner Ian Harkes sung the praises of Courts after the match. “It shows that he means business,” the American said. “He prepares us the right way and he takes a very calm approach. He doesn’t get mixed up in the emotions. He prepared us the right way and we stuck to it.”
Courts is clearly doing a good job at Tannadice. This week he goes up against Hibs on Thursday in the Premier Sports Cup before a trip to Celtic Park on Sunday. Those matches will test his credentials further. But one thing he should be sure of: he belongs at this level. Now is the time for him to rest assured, with credit in the bank.