Steven Thompson shocked by Dundee United's decline

Former Rangers, Cardiff City, Burnley and Scotland striker Steven Thompson was 15 years into his playing career before he finally signed for boyhood heroes St Mirren, winning the League Cup with them in 2013 before hanging up his boots at the end of last season.

St Mirren manager Jack Ross and Dundee United boss Ray McKinnon look ahead to Saturday's Irn Bru Cup final. Picture: Craig Williamson/SNS
St Mirren manager Jack Ross and Dundee United boss Ray McKinnon look ahead to Saturday's Irn Bru Cup final. Picture: Craig Williamson/SNS

However, he retains affection for Dundee United, with whom he began his professional life. He made 161 appearances for United and was a team-mate of current manager Ray McKinnon.

Thompson, now a media pundit, still follows his local team and was present when St Mirren, who have been bottom of the Championship for more than six months, beat United 3-2 at home ten days ago.

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McKinnon’s team have the opportunity to avenge that defeat when the clubs meet again in today’s Irn Bru Challenge Cup final. Thompson will be hoping that Saints prevail but admits he was dismayed to witness how poor United have become.

Top of the Championship at Hogmanay, just one league win in ten since then has taken the Tayside outfit to fourth place – and 25 goals conceded in their past 11 outings suggests that their problems are not difficult to identify.

“I was at the game in Paisley last week and I was pleasantly surprised by how well St Mirren played,” said Thompson.

“However, I was absolutely shocked by United’s display, particularly their defending.

“ United have Tony Andreu in the team, who stands out like a sore thumb and shouldn’t be playing at that level. They have some quality players middle to front but their defence was all over the place. The goals they lost that night were really poor so that’s a big concern.”

McKinnon admits the ones they conceded in last weekend’s 2-0 defeat by struggling Raith Rovers were, if anything, even more embarrassing.

Thompson feels for him and believes that he deserves backing from his board and the fans. With the club posting losses of £1.55m for the last financial year, promotion is vital for their finances, with the play-offs their most likely route back to the top tier.

“Now they have this cup final and I think United’s biggest problem is the expectation levels of the support,” said Thompson.

“When they went on that great run before Christmas at the top of the table, their fans thought that they were going to go on and win the league.

“But, when you think about how Ray had to scramble around for new players last summer and how much smaller their budget is compared to Hibs, then that isn’t realistic.

“If [chairman] Stephen Thompson was being honest then taking part in the play-offs should always have been the aim and they will get there. For me, they’ll then have done what they set out to achieve.

“Ray has been getting a lot of stick but he wanted to bring more players in during the January window because he knew things weren’t right. I feel for him but there’s no doubt that they are under-performing.”

For St Mirren, collecting the cup today may supply the confidence which has been lacking in recent months and Thompson argues that the following weekend’s match against second-bottom Ayr United carries much more significance for Jack Ross’s side.

“For me, this cup final is 
secondary,” he said. “As a fan, we can enjoy the occasion and it will be a great day but Ayr’s visit next weekend is the bigger game by far. Silverware would be fantastic but it doesn’t matter.

“Hibs are in the semi-finals of the Scottish Cup but Neil Lennon would toss that trophy in the Clyde if he could be guaranteed promotion instead.

“It’s the same for Saints. They haven’t been off the foot of the table for over six months and a win over Ayr would change that. For players, that’s a huge psychological shift. After that, there are enough games left to chase Raith Rovers down and then they wouldn’t even have to worry about the play-offs. If you’d offered Jack the play-offs four weeks ago he’d have taken it. Now, I think they’ll believe they can escape that.”