Thursday, December 15, 2011

SPL Advent: Dundee United

Is that a tangerine in your stocking or are you just pleased to see me? Through the great SPL Advent calendar window today: Dundee United.

Consistency, as Motherwell's progress this season has shown, can work wonders in the SPL.

But it eludes three quarters of the league.

The result is a table packed tightly from fourth place to bottom place. That's not a sign of excitement but a sign of groaning mediocrity, a league of well matched journeymen doing nothing very special.

Yet this state of affairs is not without its advantages. A wee run of good results can transform a middling season into an alright season, deliver a team from the evil of the bottom six to the heavenly wonders of the top six.

Which is pretty much exactly where Dundee United find themselves midway through a season of some frustration.

Early on it looked as if Peter Houston was but a round of clear-the-air-talks from having more time to spend with Craig Levein.

He survived. But it would be a stretch to say he has thrived.

There have been some nice wins and some heartening wins. There's also been a few abject performances.

United have yet to win back-to-back SPL games. They've won five, drawn six and lost seven. Only nine goals conceded at home would ordinarily be a heartening record. But they've only managed to score seven, the lowest tally in the league.

Houston is often accused of having inherited his predecessor's timidity but only Rangers have scored more goals away from home. The downside is that only Inverness have conceded more on the road.

It's all amounted to a big sigh and a theatrical shrug of the shoulders kind of a season.

When he seemed set to lose out in an internal conflagration at Tannadice Houston was keen to point to what he's achieved since taking over.

He might also point to mitigating circumstances, of the difficulty of rebuilding a team when big players move on and finances dictate that replacements must be found on a shoestring.

United find themselves in transition, that near permanent state that haunts most SPL clubs.

Garry Kenneth has announced his desire to leave. Scott Allan seems set to head down south. The trend towards transition will continue, the impoverished Scottish game making it ever more difficult to build for the future.

Houston still has some impressive quality at his disposal.

Now he needs to show that his refashioned team can use those assets to come close delivering the results of the last two seasons.

Are you hanging up your stocking on the wall?


27 years ago this week United were narrowly losing a blockbuster of a European tie to Manchester United.

A 5-4 aggregate defeat and a crowd of over 21,000 at Tannadice.

Sturrock, Narey, McAlpine...

Aye, it's not just Aberdeen who can dream of what might have been and what once was.

But not even Santa can turn back the clock.

So the far more prosaic gift of a wee run of a wins, top six security and a bit more excitement at home is probably the order of the day.

I'm not convinced Houston is doing anything particularly wrong. An injury free winter and some consistency would delight him. Not very dramatic. But the difference between a good season, a meh season and a bad season for United.

The Scottish Football Blog blogathon took place in November in aid of Alzheimer Scotland and the Homeless World Cup. You can still donate to help two great causes.