They’ve signed Bilel Mohsni. They’ve added Paul Sturrock to the coaching staff. But there appears to be no quick-fix for Dundee United’s on-field troubles after Csaba Laszlo’s floundering side were held at home to fellow promotion hopefuls Dunfermline.
While the hosts will feel they deserved at least a point for their efforts on the balance of play, they must recognise they were fortunate to receive their goal when they did, as a calamity at the back from the visitors presented them with a lifeline just when it looked like they were heading for another crushing defeat in the Ladbrokes Championship.
The result saw them slip behind Morton and into the final play-off spot, though they remain two points ahead of Dunfermline. United have a two-point lead and three games in hand over Allan Johnston’s men, but if they don’t start improving their fortunes soon, having won only once in the last seven, then neither of those advantages will feel like much of an upper hand.
Sturrock, a United legend as a player and former manager, was added to the coaching staff on Friday. He wasn’t in the home dugout, though, and Laszlo visibly bristled at the suggestion he may have a bigger say than simply offering advice to the embattled manager.
He stated: “Look, I am the manager. At the moment, Paul Sturrock is a scout for the club and Paul Sturrock is a friend for me, and also Paul Sturrock is someone who understands football. We work together, but we don’t work today together.
“The person who has responsibility to put the team together and to train the team is Csaba Laszlo. If you accept that or not, that is your problem.
“I’ll tell you a story. I worked together with Lothar Matthaus and Lothar told me that at Bayern Munich, Ottmar Hitzfeld would come always to the boys and ask: ‘What do you think? And how is this?’
“He asked – he used their knowledge. There is nobody who is 1000 per cent wise.”
The hosts almost made a dream start when Jamie Robson forced Lee Robinson into an early save inside two minutes. The bright opening soon faded, though, and it was the visitors who were next to go close as Declan McManus shot off the outside of the post.
Dunfermline grew into the contest and enjoyed some sustained pressure around the half-hour mark. McManus and James Craigen were not too far away with efforts from distance, before United’s Celtic loanee Anthony Ralston had to clear from almost underneath his own crossbar.
Against the run of play, Laszlo’s men almost found themselves ahead with two chances in the space of 60 seconds. Scott Fraser’s free-kick brought out a superb stop from Robinson before Nicky Clark made a goal-line clearance to deny Tam Scobbie from the resulting corner. Up the other end, McManus wasted a promising counter by blasting high and wide.
United were forced into a defensive reshuffle at the break with Mark Durnan coming on for Scobbie. This moved Mohsni to the left of the three centre-backs and this had a bearing on the opening goal. The ex-Rangers man decided against going to close Kallum Higginbotham and soon found himself in a two-on-one on the edge of his own box. Higginbotham exploited it to play in Ryan Williamson and the right-back executed a perfect low cross for Clark to tap home.
Facing a struggling side and a vocally negative home support, this was a huge advantage for the visitors – which they managed to throw away inside two minutes. A routine cross to the back post should have been cleared easily by Craigen, but instead of attacking the ball he let it run across his body. When he finally tried to clear, his attempt smashed off the onrushing Scott McDonald and rebounded into the net.
The hosts suddenly had their tails up as McDonald saw a close-range effort blocked by Callum Morris, while Sam Stanton’s low effort from inside the area slithered just wide of the far post.
McDonald almost netted once more on the counter, flicking a bouncing ball past Robinson but wide of the post as well.
United were unable to sustain the momentum and had to wait until the closing exchanges for their next sight at goal. Durnan flashed a header over after being found by a Craig Slater free-kick, while Dunfermline were a whisker away from McManus snatching it at the death.