United showing signs of improvement

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Robert McGlone

AFTER a poor run of three defeats, Dundee United have improved over the last couple of games as we head towards the completion of the first round of Scottish Premiership fixtures.

Heavy 4-0 losses at Rangers and Kilmarnock did little for the confidence of manager Micky Mellon’s side, with questions still being asked of the central defence pairings after a number of avoidable soft goals. While the trip to Killie could maybe be put down to a bad day at the office, without the heroics of Big Swiss stopper Benji Siegrist, United could have easily suffered a double digit humiliation at Ibrox.

Micky’s men, however, showed their ‘bouncebackability’ at Tannadice when St Mirren came to visit. The last time these sides met prior to this game was the heart-breaking play-off final in 2019 where United failed to register a single goal in the penalty shootout. Whether or not that was playing on the players’ minds, they produced some excellent football in the second half which saw them run out 2-1 victors with the winner coming from an unlikely source in young Argentinian left-back Adrián Sporle after the returning Lawrence Shankland (above) had netted the opener.

Shankland—who had been out for six weeks—has been sorely missed. His superb strike, peeling off the Saints defenders and launching an over the shoulder looping shot with his back to goal, was a sight to behold after United’s failure to score in their last three consecutive outings.

‘Lawrence of Arabia’ would repeat the feat at an away day at Hamilton Accies in United’s last encounter. Having the lion’s share of possession, The Tangerines will, however, rue missed chances and can look at this one as two points lost. As United continually failed to capitalise in front of goal, Accies equalised with 15 minutes to go to register their first home point of the season and came away the happier side.

In a post-match interview Mellon reinforced the fact that at this level you cannot switch for even a millisecond or you will be punished. The inability to kill games off as seen a few times already this season is also a concern and will be on his mind as well.

Arabs are of course delighted to see Shankland back to full fitness, with the Scotland striker also going a long way in silencing his critics with regards to cutting it in the top league. As ever though, the talk of a potential move elsewhere is never far away and Championship newcomers Coventry City is the latest name doing the rounds. So too, an impressive run of form by academy graduate Logan Chalmers has linked him to Crystal Palace who have been running a keen eye over him of late. The young winger has settled in nicely to the first team set up and it would seem United have yet again unearthed another young gem here.

So at this stage, a mid table position seems acceptable given the step up from the Championship. It’s no doubt a learning curve on a week-to-week basis and as mentioned earlier, rough spots need to be ironed out. It’s great to see youth getting a chance and Mellon is a huge believer in that leaving out more established names in the last couple of games. No doubt the club is still short of personnel for the long haul and an over dependence on Shankland is always going to be a concern. There was talk of bringing back former fans favourite Pavol Šafranko, but it may have just been ‘talk.’ The Slovakian now plying his trade in Romania was said to be keen on a return but it appears the deal—if ever there was one—is dead in the water.

Few teams will relish coming to Tannadice this season and, as one journalist put it, ‘United can be frightening going forward with their pace.’ Nonetheless, the focus may be have to making be the Tangerines a team hard to beat in these still early days. Livingston will be the next visitors at Tannadice before a run of league cup group games, which may give a few fringe players a chance to stake their claim for a regular place on league duty.

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