25 May 2023

What has gone wrong for Dundee United with club on brink of relegation?

25 May 2023

Dundee United stand on the brink of the drop following Wednesday’s 3-0 home defeat by Kilmarnock.

To avoid automatic relegation from the cinch Premiership, United need to beat Motherwell at Fir Park and hope Killie beat Ross County on Sunday while gaining eight goals on the Staggies.

Here, the PA news agency looks at what has gone wrong in United’s third season back in the Premiership after finishing fourth last term.

Instability in the dugout

United have had six managers since American businessman Mark Ogren purchased a controlling stake in December 2018, and three this season alone. Jack Ross was sacked after just seven games in charge and his assistant, Liam Fox, was promoted before leaving the role in late February with Jim Goodwin taking charge until the end of the season. There was further change around the time Fox departed as sporting director Tony Asghar left his role.

European nightmare

United beat AZ Alkmaar in the Europa Conference League in their first home match of the season but their campaign began to unravel during the return trip to the Netherlands when they conceded seven goals – six of them in a 25-minute spell. The shell-shock appears to have lasted and more heavy defeats have followed. United lost 3-0 at home to both St Mirren and Kilmarnock, suffered a club-record 9-0 home defeat by Celtic and were thrashed 4-0 by Ross County.

Goalkeeping problems

United signed one-cap Australia international Mark Birighitti from Central Coast Mariners to replace Celtic-bound Benjamin Siegrist but the 32-year-old has never really recovered from a poor start. Birighitti lost his place after conceding 11 goals in two matches but his replacement, Carljohan Eriksson, let in 12 in the next two games. Birighitti regained his place and United allowed Eriksson to join Nordsjaelland on loan in January without signing a replacement. Birighitti lost his place again after gifting St Johnstone a late winner but 21-year-old Jack Newman let in four goals in Dingwall on his full debut. Birighitti was again dropped following his part in a terrible opening goal for Livingston and Newman was back in goal on Wednesday night.

Lack of bite

United have a host of ball-playing midfielders including Ian Harkes, Jamie McGrath, Craig Sibbald, Peter Pawlett, Dylan Levitt and Arnaud Djoum but they have lacked a ball-winner in the centre of the park since losing Jeando Fuchs and then Calum Butcher. The problem appeared glaringly obvious as United crumbled in Alkmaar but with Asghar seemingly taking a significant role in player recruitment, nothing was done about it.

Where were the goals coming from?

United signed Tony Watt from Motherwell in January last year but he only managed one goal, against his former club, to add to the 10 goals he netted in claret and amber that season. They brought in former Scotland striker Steven Fletcher before the start of this campaign and sold Nicky Clark to St Johnstone. Watt struggled for game time before being allowed to join St Mirren on loan on the final day of the January window while he was locked on four league goals alongside Fletcher. The 36-year-old has since doubled his season tally but is the only experienced forward on the books with support coming from Rory McLeod, who turned 17 in February.

Leadership issues

Captain Ryan Edwards endured a struggle with his own form and has largely been out of the team since early February while 37-year-old Charlie Mulgrew admitted he found it a challenge to balance a coaching role with playing duties. The difficulties in turning around their fortunes have been evident within games and also during lengthy runs where negativity has lingered. United conceded 24 goals during a five-match losing streak in August, went 11 games without a win following a mini-revival after the World Cup and have now lost four matches on the trot after appearing to turn the corner with a hat-trick of wins.

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