DUNDEE UNITED began the season as firm favourites for promotion from the Championship. The biggest club and the biggest budget in Scotland’s second tier, the aim is simple for The Terrors in that they end a two year absence from the Premiership.
Ten games into the season, things are not going according to plan! United sit fourth in the League having won just half their matches and are five points behind leaders St Mirren in the table, not what the fans were expecting at the start of the campaign.
Defeat at home by relegated Inverness Caledonian Thistle, who have had a shocking start to the season, has increased the pressure on Manager Ray McKinnon.
Appointed 18 months ago, McKinnon, a former United player, inherited a squad that had suffered the humiliation of relegation after a 20 year stay in Scotland’s top flight and had to rebuild a team capable of getting the club back into the Premiership.
Initially, things were looking up for the former Raith Rovers boss as they led pre-season favourites Hibernian going into the Christmas period, having beaten the Hibees 1-0 at Tannadice. However, a shocking run of just four wins in 17 games not only saw them miles behind Hibs in the table but scrape third place and meant they had to go through three two-legged ties to achieve their goal.
Although they done well to get past Morton and Falkirk, they ran out of steam in the Playoff Final against Hamilton, who went through 1-0 overall. Despite this setback, United still expected to bounce back strongly this season and get back into the top flight.
That hasn’t materialised, despite a solid opening three matches collating nine points. The club have only won two from seven since then that have included a resounding 3-0 defeat at promotion rivals St Mirren, a home draw with part-timers Dumbarton and consecutive defeats by Livingston and Inverness in their last two games. Fans patience in McKinnon is wearing thin, with many disgruntled at results and the style of football on offer at Tannadice.
BBC’s Jim Spence tweeted post-match on Saturday, following the disappointment of the Inverness result, that the board held an emergency meeting, which has led to rumours that they will cut Ray McKinnon’s tenure short in a bid to revive their campaign before they fall further adrift.
Although, at the time of this blog being written, McKinnon hasn’t lost his job yet, the outlook is looking bleak for a manager who was close to taking Raith up in his only season in charge at Starks Park before jumping at the chance to manage his boyhood team. Having been given a year to rebuild the squad, and the acknowledgement that Hibs were always likely to go up last year given their resources, he had to hit the ground running this season to set a clear statement that he was the right man to take United back to the Premiership. That hasn’t happened and, although the argument is that they are only five points adrift with 26 games still to play, there isn’t much evidence to suggest improvement under his tenure.
Not that Ray McKinnon is the main reason why Dundee United are sitting fourth in the Championship at the moment, far from it! His players are not producing the goods at the moment and they need to take a good look at themselves. In Tam Scobbie, Paul Quinn, Willo Flood, Fraser Fyvie and Scott McDonald, they have players who have top flight pedigree and provide a solid base for them to work on. Right now, it’s not working, something that the manager needs to address but his senior players in particular need to step up and be counted.
Further afield, Dundee United’s problems stem from the boardroom, in particular Chairman Stephen Thompson. He’s taken most of the stick from the United faithful for not reinvesting in the team despite the club making a significant amount of money from the sales of talented players like David Goodwillie, Johnny Russell, Nadir Ciftci, Ryan Gauld and Stuart Armstrong over the last few years. Ever since the latter, along with Gary MacKay-Steven, was sold to Celtic just two days after getting into the League Cup Final to play the Hoops, United have been on an alarming declining and that perception of selling players being more important than club success did not go down well with the United fans.
That perception increased further when it was revealed that then manager, Jackie McNamara, received a significant sum from the sales of the players he oversaw during his tenure. For the rest of that season, United were utterly pathetic, losing timidly in that League Cup Final and dropping from the race for second in the Premiership to a distant fifth missing out on Europe before their dreadful relegation season. McNamara was dismissed two months into that campaign before Thompson blundered by going appointing ex-United cult-hero Mixu Paatelainen over Stuart McCall, who’d worked wonders at Motherwell. Paatelainen’s reign didn’t go well, culminating in his sacking after a derby defeat to Dundee that sealed their relegation.
Thompson has also alienated himself from the United support, so much so that he is in denial at knowing that a fans group approached him with a proposed takeover bid. He’s also said that United need to go up this season otherwise the club are under a serious financial predicament, which suggests that all is not well off the pitch and that the club badly need to return to the top flight. That in itself is a reason why potential investors are being put off from looking to takeover the club, something Thompson is looking to happen.
Whilst he’s there, he’s got a big call to make on Ray McKinnon. It all comes down to whether he believes that the man he ultimately entrusted to get the club back into the top flight is still capable of delivering that goal, even through the Playoffs.
If he has any doubts, then there is only one outcome. United have a tricky trip to Dumbarton next weekend before St Mirren come to Tannadice in a key game that could have a big impact in United’s chances of going up as Champions in the only guaranteed promotion spot as opposed to the hard work of the Playoffs. Does he stick with his man in hope that he finds something to revive their ailing promotion bid, or does he give McKinnon his P45 in hope that a new manager, or interim boss, gets a reaction from their players over these next two key matches.
Either way, this is, potentially, Dundee United’s most crucial decision in their season that they hope leads them to a return to the top flight of Scottish football.