WITH a Scottish Cup semi-final on the horizon and Premiership football now guaranteed at Tannadice for next season, things are at last looking up for Dundee United.
A tricky first game post-split at Hamilton gave the Tangerines the one victory they required to maintain their top tier status, with on loan striker, Marc McNulty, slamming home the winner after just six minutes on the clock. Accies—fighting for their own survival—pressed hard, but some resolute defending ensured the Tangerines headed up the road with all three points in the bag and more importantly relaxed in the knowledge they were free from the drop zone and play off positions this season.
With a trip to Aberdeen in mind in the Scottish Cup and given the safety of the league position—where the lowest United can finish is ninth—manager Micky Mellon (above) took the opportunity to rest key players in the league for the trip to Kilmarnock, omitting no fewer than seven experienced regulars from the side that went down 3-0 on the night. A case of damage limitation was countered by an unforgiving section of the United support who were not impressed with this managerial strategy, calling for the head of the boss on a plate. Many fans took to the usual social media outlets to vent their anger and provide ‘expert opinions’ for the running of the club who last month announced a loss of £3 million in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.
A policy of ‘sack the manager’ without any viable or any sensible alternatives seems to be prevalent on these forums. Reading some of the criticisms, one can only assume that there are those who will never be happy until the legendary Jim McLean has been reincarnated, or the club have emulated the success of many a fan on Football Manager, by taking United from the depths of the Dundee and Angus District League to winning the Champions League on a yearly basis.
Mellon’s decision here was, nonetheless, more than merited with United running riot in the Granite City and now heading to Hampden after a 3-0 win that TV pundits heralded as the best performance of the season so far from the Tangerines. Two goals from Marc McNulty and a third from centre-half Ryan Edwards sealed the deal, sending United through to the semi-final.
Much has been made of the three-pronged attack of Nicky Clark, Lawrence Shankland and McNulty, and granted it is has been square pegs in round holes at times. However, on this occasion, all three had hands in the goals and showed exactly why Mellon has deployed this set-up.
Some surprising statistics also arose from that game in that it was United’s first ever win in the Scottish Cup at Pittodrie and secondly Aberdeen failed to score against United in all four games this season, which is also a rarity.
United also rested many key players for the league game at home to Ross County, which they lost 2-0 and they move on swiftly to the big showdown with Hibs in the semi-final at Hampden Park. The Tangerines will go in as underdogs with the Easter Road side finishing in the top half of the table and having the kudos of already claiming two victories this season in previous encounters.
It could be a season defining game for the group of players that Mellon has assembled and whatever the outcome of that one, fans can’t argue that Mellon has done exactly what he was hired to do and that was to keep the club in the Premiership at the first time of asking. The cup run is a bonus and a welcome extension to the season and 100 per cent preferable to a play-off which supporters have been subjected to in three of the last four years.
Of the current squad, one player who won’t see any more action this season is first choice goalkeeper—and a sound bet for Player of the Year—Benjamin Siegrist. The big Swiss keeper was unlucky to fracture his wrist in the warm-up in an earlier cup round up at Forfar Athletic. He has been replaced between the sticks by Deniz Mehmet with young Celtic keeper Ross Doohan joining on loan as back up for the remainder of the season.
Given Siegrist’s performances this season who knows if we’ll see him back at Tannadice at all, as he may well move on to a bigger stage after the summer. Whatever the outcome, the best of luck goes to him as he has been pheromonal as a No 1 and currently holds the record for most shots stopped this year in the top tier of Scottish football, which is testament to his quality.