Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Dundee United can't afford to get this appointment wrong

This week Dundee United are going to sack manager Ray McKinnon.  (In fact, I understand they already have done, but it's Tuesday morning and there's still no official word from the club.)  A home defeat to struggling Inverness leaves United fourth in the Championship, five points behind leaders St. Mirren.  Had they won, they would be just two points off top spot.

Under McKinnon, United narrowly missed out on promotion last season via the playoffs, going down 1-0 on aggregate to Hamilton Accies.  Despite a few rocky results this season, you'd still have heavily fancied them to at least stay in the top four and get another crack at the playoffs this time around.

But that isn't sufficient.  One season outwith the Premiership was far too much.  For a club, and support, of this size being outside the top flight is unacceptable; worse, the club's financial situation means that staying in the second tier for a third straight year could have horrendous consequences; things would already be dire but for £800,000 received as part of ex-player Andrew Robertson's move to Liverpool.

Robertson was of course part of a United side that reached the Scottish Cup Final in 2014.  Not a single member of that matchday eighteen - that included Stuart Armstrong, Nadir Ciftci, Gary Mackay-Steven, Ryan Gauld and John Souttar amongst others - is still at Tannadice.  In fact, only Sean Dillon remained two years after the event.  Seven months later United defeated Celtic at Tannadice to go second in the league at Christmas, just four points off the top.  With Ronny Deila toiling at Parkhead, some crazy people even wondered if United were a dark horse for the title.

Just sixteen months after that, they were relegated.  And things haven't got any better - unless you count the Challenge Cup; United won that at their first attempt, which is more than Hearts, Hibs and Rangers managed.  So I suppose there's that.

McKinnon seemed a sensible appointment at the time, a manager who had overachieved with Raith Rovers at Championship level and with Brechin City before that, and a former United player to boot.  And given the mess he inherited, a little leeway was given in the early stages.  After all, it took Rangers two years to get out of this very competitive and under-rated division (look, that's the excuse I'm using for Caley Thistle's struggles, and I'm sticking to it) and Hibs three.  But United only came third in the table, before winning two playoff games.  They then went down to a Hamilton side who were surely the most dreadful team not to be relegated from the Premiership.

And the quality of reinforcement brought in during the summer meant that there were no excuses left.  Scott McDonald turned down a new deal at Motherwell to join up; James Keatings has won promotion from the Championship with three different clubs; along with Keatings, Fraser Fyvie went up with Hibs last season; Paul McMullan and Sam Stanton impressed on loan spells with Dunfermline and Dumbarton respectively; Paul Quinn and Tam Scobbie added top flight experience to the back line.

Yet it all felt cobbled together.  McDonald and Keatings have six league goals between them but don't look like a partnership - in fact winger McMullan looked more effective up front than either of them when pressed into the role during an early season injury crisis.  The midfield lacks solidity, with Jordie Briels struggling as a holding midfielder and Willo Flood a shadow of the player he was in his first Tannadice spell now his legs are going.  And in defence there is only one out-and-out full-back, youngster Jamie Robson.  Sure, Scobbie, Lewis Toshney and Stewart Murdoch can all play there if necessary, but none of them offer any sort of attacking threat.

If chairman Stephen Thompson was looking for a sure sign that McKinnon was out of his depth, it came in the middle of the second half on Saturday.  Two down at home, and with two forwards on the bench, he moved Mark Durnan up front.  That's Mark Durnan, the central defender.  The ridiculousness was not lost on the supporters, and was exacerbated by the contrast with his direct opponent, ICT centre-back Coll Donaldson.  Donaldson was the epitomy of United's struggles over the last two years, a youngster who was supposed to be a great talent-in-waiting and who was paid as such, only to flop spectacularly.  Let go in August, Donaldson has moved up the A9 and looks rejuvenated by his move to the Highlands.  He breezed through the match, looking far more relaxed, composed and able than his former teammates.

So McKinnon had to go.  And United need to replace him with someone who can guarantee promotion, if such a thing is possible.  It's no surprise to see Jim McIntyre in the frame, a former United player who won the Championship in charge of Dunfermline.  John Hughes has also been mentioned - Thompson is known to be an admirer, and unsuccessfully tried to recruit him to replace Jackie McNamara (talk about a Sliding Doors moment for United and Caley Thistle).  But Hughes would take time to implement his passing style, time that United probably don't have.

The big worry is that everything has just gone rotten.  Hibernian's relegation in 2014 was the culmination of years of stagnation where everyone walking through Easter Road's front door seemed inflicted with the opposite of the Midas Touch.  It didn't matter how good a player (or coach) you were, you would become guff if you joined Hibs.  Especially if you were a goalkeeper.  Only a radical overhaul of the club, along with a spell in the Championship, cleansed them of this curse.

United aren't big enough or stable enough off the pitch to have the time for that, though the fans would welcome Thompson's exit.  But given the struggles of their bigger names, one worries that, if Leo Messi pitched up in tangerine, after a month fans would be muttering "this guy's not exactly Ralphy Milne, is he?"

But if they are to have any hope at all in the short-term, they need to get this appointment right.

Lawrie Spence (LS) has ranted and spouted his ill-informed opinions on Narey's Toepoker since September 2007.  He has a life outside this blog.  Honestly.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Well written and ooohhhh so true. Aahh to see oorsells as others see us. Personally, as an Arab I've never been as embarrassed about my club as I am the noo. And yes- whether we like it or not, there was more than a hint of truth in the gutterances of Kris Boyd the other day. Just that he didnae have the balls to come right out and stick it to us. And what's probably even worse is that the rest of you, apart from one or two Administration experts at Dense, cannae even be bothered to take the piss. Probably because y'all know that with the laughable league structure in Scotland - this could happen to anybody. And it's sair. But I wish folk would tone down the bile being hosed over Ray McKinnon. The man's got family who'll be suffering a different kind of agonies than we are. It hasnae worked. End of. It's what comes next that's important. And that unfortunately is where all our Arab problems begin and end. A business - cos that's what fitba seems to have to be about nowadays - needs to have at least half-way competent executive management and ownership. This is conspicuous by its absence at DUFC and if any of the starry eyed in the the grandstands at Tanny care to scrape away at the glossy veneer of the Thomson Dynasty, the ragged so called philanthropists of the past 15 years or so will be exposed in all their egotistical vainglory. And so we trundle gradually downhill, supporters running against the brake as best they can. Move along please folks, nothing to see here.