Dundee United travel to Dunfermline today in search of three points that could potentially see them sitting in the top six of the SPL come 4:45pm. On the other hand, a loss at East End Park would see them propping up the rest of the table should other results also not go in their favour.
Such is the minimal difference in quality between teams outside the Old Firm this season, United boss, Peter Houston, has witnessed his team struggle to get a foothold in many games since the campaign kicked off. Losing four of his best players in the summer has not helped the United boss but many argue that, despite this, United still have a team that should not even be contemplating how they can lift themselves out of an early relegation battle.
Houston has come out fighting over the past week, claiming that he has the best record at Tannadice since the legendary Jim McLean and, if he were to be sacked, he could leave Tannadice with his head held high. I have to agree with the man, it’s hard not to. However, there are many connected to United who believe his honeymoon period is long gone and that United’s form this season is nothing short of abysmal compared to the last couple of seasons. I have witnessed some saying that Houston’s tactics are bizarre at times, his choice of substitutions, and the timing of them, simply do not make sense, and that his eye for a player is simply not as good as his predecessor, Craig Levein.
United chairman, Stephen Thompson, is now in a very unenvious position. The relationship between himself and his late father, Eddie Thompson, and their employees, Craig Levein and Peter Houston, was at one point seen as one that was rock solid and a bond that, it seemed, would take a lot to break. When Levein left, Houston impressed enough to be given the job permanently and subsequently went on to guide United to Scottish Cup glory in May 2010 – albeit with a group of players that Levein brought in and nurtured. United fans have to agree that the team have, arguably, had their best period since the McLean days during the Levein/Houston era. The position Thompson now finds himself in is one where he has to decide his next course of action – for the good of Dundee United, not for Peter Houston or Stephen Thompson. Is it a case of bringing in a new manager and paying out massive compensation to Houston, in the hope that a new boss will turn things round instantly? Or does he stick with Peter and hope that eventually the hard work of trying to gel younger players into the team will work and see United climb up the table again? I personally wouldn’t like to have to make that call but, if anything, Thompson’s hand may be forced simply by the fact that United cannot afford to offload their manager right now.
Sentiments aside, the table doesn’t lie, but then neither does the bank balance. Peter Houston has brought in players on free transfers to the best of his ability, and I simply do not think another manager could do any better at this moment in time. I’ll say this again, losing four hugely talented players in the summer and expecting to replace them with the same, but with no money available to do so, was simply never going to happen. I actually believe a huge amount of credit should be given to Houston for not just giving up the ghost and moving on in the summer himself. But then, I think Peter Houston is an honest and loyal guy. For those reasons, sacking him now is simply out of the question and would, in my opinion, do far more harm than good. I do wonder what dear old Eddie would make of all this nonsense.