In the second of our four takeaways from the Scottish football weekend, Craig Fowler questions whether Dundee United have the mental toughness for the relegation dogfight
Goals change games. It’s one of the oldest mantras in football. Unfortunately for Dundee United, this couldn’t be more accurate when highlighting their struggles this season. And it doesn’t matter if they’re scoring or conceding.
On the last five occasions they’ve taken the lead, they’ve won only once, while they are the only side in the top flight who’ve yet to register a point after going behind.
The perfect situation for United is to take the lead after the 80th minute and then hold on for dear life, which is exactly what they’ve done in their only two league victories. Any goal which occurs before that time sees United fall to bits.
The last game of Jackie McNamara’s stewardship saw them go to St Johnstone, start the game very brightly, take the lead while simultaneously earning a one man advantage after Alan Mannus’ red card, and then let their opponents control the rest of the match en route to a 2-1 defeat.
This past Saturday was very similar. And while they didn’t suffer the ignominy of letting a team with 10 men overturn a 1-0 deficit, they still collapsed in spectacular fashion as Chris Kane and Murray Davidson both netted within the space of three minutes right before half-time.
It seems along with a lack of overall talent, United struggle for leaders within their ranks and players who can keep their composure at crucial points in games.
The goal, which proved to be a St Johnstone winner, should have been nothing more than a warning after Joe Shaughnessy inexplicably missed the target when presented with an open goal four yards out. Instead, Steven MacLean was allowed to fire a shot off the post before Davidson scrambled it over the line.
It was a shame because United’s first half performance was their most impressive display since the 2-2 draw with rivals Dundee way back in August. Mixu Paatelainen utilised the recent signing of Gavin Gunning by switching to a 3-6-1 with Ryan McGowan and Paul Dixon encouraged to get as far forward as possible from the wing back positions. McGowan combined terrifically with Blair Spittal to cross for Billy Mckay’s opener that briefly had Tannadice hoping for a rare happy ending to Saturday’s football.
The formation would eventually help contribute to their downfall with Michael O’Halloran involved in the build-up to both goals. With only one man on the wings, Dixon was left isolated against the speedster.
Although, O’Halloran is one of, if not the best, wide man in the league. They won’t be facing quality of that level every week and should focus on the positives before they entertain Hamilton at Tannadice next week.