Benjamin Siegrist will be a points winner for Dundee United

St Mirren's Paul McGinn has his headed chance saved from Dundee United's Benjamin Siegrist.
St Mirren's Paul McGinn has his headed chance saved from Dundee United's Benjamin Siegrist.

As Dundee United prepare for their fourth crack at escaping from the Championship, much of the focus will be on the array of attacking talent manager Robbie Neilson has assembled at Tannadice.

With players like Osman Sow, Nicky Clark, Paul McMullan and Peter Pawlett at his disposal, United should have the most potent strike force in the second tier.

And with the gaffer making it clear he wants another top front man to replace last season’s star man Pavol Safranko, it appears his forward line is only going to get stronger.

While, though, it’s possibly too early to predict who the key player in 2019/20 is going to be, it might just pan out that it’s a man who operates at the other end of the park who grabs that title.

Because, as the closing weeks of the last campaign showed, goalkeeper Benjamin Siegrist has become a vital part of the squad.

Signed along with Matej Rakovan this time last year, despite having experience of the workings of the British game from his formative years as a youth player at Aston Villa, the big Swiss took time to settle in Scotland.

After giving both equal game time in the Betfred Cup, then-boss Csaba Laszlo showed a preference for Slovakian Rakovan as the league got under way.

That meant, a couple of Irn-Bru Cup appearances apart, Siegrist had to be content with a place on the bench for the first two months of the Championship programme.

For a while it even looked like his stay at United could be short-lived and there were hints he would return to his native Switzerland by the turn of the year.

Everything changed after a disastrous 5-1 home defeat at the hands of eventual title winners Ross County saw Laszlo shown the door at the end of September.

One of caretaker boss Laurie Ellis’ first acts was to hand Siegrist his first league appearance, in a 2-0 defeat at Ayr. Neilson was quickly appointed as permanent successor and decided to keep the 27-year-old in goal for his first game, a 2-1 win at Partick Thistle, and it’s fair to say he has not looked back since.

The only games he’s missed have been because of injury and, from October until the end of the season, he would make 34 appearances. If there were some shaky moments early on, it’s fair to say over time he grew into the position.

As the climax of last season approached, his performances led to the manager stating he believed he had a top goalkeeper in the making between the sticks.

Those words proved prophetic because, although another play-off campaign would end in defeat and disappointment for United, without question Siegrist was their top performer in four games against Inverness Caley Thistle and St Mirren.

At crucial times in all four games, he made vital saves. Even in the quarter-final against ICT, that was by no means as comfortable as the 4-0 aggregate win suggested, during a nervy first half of the second leg, he stood firm and provided the foundation for the 3-0 win.

And if the dream of going up ended in a disastrous penalty shoot-out against the Buddies, but for him his team would probably have not got that far.

During these games he was scouted by representatives of English Championship outfit Nottingham Forest and indications are their interest remains alive.

With money at Tannadice not an issue and the player under contract, that’s unlikely to come to anything.

That has to be good news for United fans. For all that mentioned attacking talent, at times in the coming year they will have to rely on their goalkeeper to secure points.