I think I’ve finally accepted that Dundee United will actually go up this season.
I didn’t want to believe it, even though we’ve been top of the league since the first game of the season.
There’s always been a sense that we would find a way to Dundee United everything up and be doomed to another season in the Championship one way or another. But, now that 24 games have been played and we’re 17 points clear of the league in January with the most goals scored, the least goals conceded, a striker who has scored 22 goals in 19 league games, and a goalkeeper that has kept 10 clean sheets in 24 games. Yeah, we’re going up.
One element of United’s season that I personally think has gone underappreciated is their attacking lineup. I know this might sound silly to most people considering that it feels like not a week will go by without some glowing piece about Lawrence Shankland showing up on your twitter timeline. I feel like this has given the impression that United are a one-man team, which is ridiculously unfair. No team can be so far ahead with only one good player and United have attacking talent all over the pitch. Last Saturday’s victory over Partick Thistle showcased this well.
If you had to put an exact formation to it, United lined up on Saturday in a 4-1-4-1, but this isn’t as defensive as it may sound. United basically lined-up with 4 attacking players all behind Lawrence Shankland who would stay up the top of the pitch. The other four, though starting off the game in the positions shown below, would rotate into each other’s positions throughout the game as well as joining Shankland upfront when the need arose. Powers, making his debut, was the only centre mid who would stay deep, getting the ball off the opposition and the centre backs to feed the attackers.
United would struggle through the beginning of the game, but came through unscathed and would start to take control of the match half an hour in. Powers received the ball from a poor Tam O’Ware clearance about 35 yards from goal. In front of him Appere and Glass were in the attacking midfield positions, Clark on the right wing with Shankland in the centre sand Sporle (outside of the photo) was on the left of the attack just standing on the penalty box line.
Shankland ran into the penalty box, then drifted further left, dragging Saunders and Brannigan with him as well as forcing Cardle to drop deep into defence. This opened up space behind him for Glass to exploit. While this happened, Sporle sprinted further ahead, taking up Shankland’s forward role, dragging Williamson out of position and forcing O’Ware into being careful about filling the space infront of him incase Shankland played the ball into what he himself would leave behind.
Glass didn’t score in the end, dragging his shot low and wide of the goal, but the ease that each player was able to move in and out of different areas of attack should’ve served as a warning sign that wasn’t taken.
United’s second goal started from a Partick Thistle throw-in. By this point Clark had pushed upfront to pressure the Thistle backline while Appere and Sporle had dropped a wee bit deeper to occupy the gaps in the Thistle team, briefly turning the formation into a diamond. Thistle’s left-back James Penrice, under pressure from Clark and seeing that his easiest option is likely marked out by Glass, punts the ball up the pitch.
Punting the ball aimlessly, like 90% of the time that tactic is employed, proved to be a bad idea. Sporle pounces, beating Joe Cardle to the ball and then plays up the pitch towards Shankland. Glass moved leftward, switching to the left-wing position that Sporle would leave behind for him as the Argentinian ran directly towards goal.
Shankland pressed forward until he reached the edge of the box. By this point it was 3 v 3, Glass had kept his run leftward and had space to move into the box. Sporle moved along the right of Shankland. The striker had three options, all of which would’ve likely led to a goal:
- Go himself.
- Through ball for Sporle to run onto in the penalty box to score.
- Pass through to Glass who would hit it across goal for Sporle and Shankland to get on the end of.
He chose option 3.
Glass dragged Thistle’s centre back Steven Saunders with him to the left edge of the 6-yard box then pass the ball low across goal. Tam O’Ware clearly didn’t feel he would able to reach it, allowing Sporle to stick a leg out and score an easy tap in despite the last-ditch efforts of Penrice.
You really have to commend the coaching of Robbie Neilson for this. He was criticised last season by a vast amount of the United support for how stagnant United would be in attack and he’s really turned that around this season. We’re only one goal away from scoring more goals this season than we did all of last season, and several players are playing the best football in their careers in positions they aren’t used to. Glass has been immediately forced into the team after being on loan and yet looks he’s been here all season, Appere has been one of the best breakout stars of the season, Sporle has recovered from a shaky start at left-back to looking like an exciting and talented (albeit clumsy) left-winger. Finally, Nicky Clark has gone from somebody many (including myself) had rated as simply a good poacher and goalscorer to someone who can drop deep to get involved in a midfield battle like he did when needed on Saturday.
Dundee United are going up, and are looking good while doing so.