It’s that time again folks. The Scottish football season is about to get underway, but before all that even starts, Dundee United are in action in the 2nd Qualifying round of the Europa League. Both legs of their tie with Polish cracks, Slask Wroclaw, will be done and dusted before the SPL kicks off, starting with the away trip to Poland on Thursday.
United may have thought they were given a tough test against Greek side, AEK Athens, in last years competition but, from what has been said in recent weeks, this year’s task looks to be an even more formidable one. Unseeded, Slask, finished second in the Polish top division last season, which speaks volumes in itself and many agree that United could not have been handed a sterner test at such an early stage of the competition.
At the risk of sounding pessimistic about United’s chances, the Tannadice outfit will also have to go in to this tie minus, arguably, three of their most consistent performers over the last few years, those being Craig Conway, Morgaro Gomis and Prince Buaben. The influential midfield trio have all moved on to pastures new and it remains to be seen if United will cope without them or will still be as dynamic in their style of play. Manager Peter Houston has brought back a fans favourite to the club, in the shape of Willo Flood. The Irish midfielder had a great spell with United in his first spell on Tayside, helping the club to reach the 2008 CIS Cup final, where they narrowly lost out to Rangers on penalties. Houston will no doubt be looking to the likes of Flood and the midfielder’s team-mate, Danny Swanson, to provide the creativity and drive that United have been used to in recent seasons. Ironically, the skillful Swanson will miss the first clash with Slask due to injury alongside fellow midfielder, Scott Robertson. Joining them on the injury list, before the season has even kicked off, is defender Gary Kenneth – another player that will be sorely missed for the first leg.
One plus for United is that their top marksman from last season, David Goodwillie, is still at Tannadice for the time being. His firepower, along-side powerful forward and club captain, Jon Daly, in the United front line could prove vital if United are to have any chance of making the next round. Goodwillie has been the subject of much transfer speculation over the past month, but it seems United will definitely have him available for the first leg, at least.
You’d be forgiven for not knowing anything about United’s Polish opponents. An unknown entity is always a dangerous one, but I’m sure Peter Houston and his backroom staff will have done their homework and drilled into the United player’s heads that they cannot underestimate the Poles. By all accounts, Slask have a very organised and skillful squad of players.
Slask are not completely unknown to all in the United ranks. United legend and current team coach, Paul Hegarty, played against them for the Tannadice team in 1980, with United routing the Poles 7-2 on aggregate – amazingly, all the goals came at Tannadice. 31 years on, and after his recent scouting mission for this year’s tie, Hegarty pointed out that Slask are a very good side and will prove difficult opponents for United. However, he is optimistic about his team’s chances given that United’s experience of playing against AEK Athens last year should stand them in good stead. Slask haven’t featured in European competition since 1987, so this is a bit of a first for many of their players. Looking closely at the their squad, there are no real household names that immediately stand out, but Hegarty has stated that they are all very comfortable on the ball, are physically strong and tackle well. One would imagine this may be a good thing, however, as the United squad are used to coming up against a similar style of play week in, week out in the SPL.
The hope now is that United can get a decent result in Poland and look to take the tie to the Poles in the second leg in Dundee. It promises to be a great evening inside Tannadice on the 21st, as there are early indications that Slask will have a huge travelling support, with many Poles who now reside in Britain reportedly snapping up tickets. A few more European nights like this at Tannadice would be welcomed.
Let’s hope another Scottish European adventure isn’t over before we’ve even taken our seats for the SPL openers.