Dundee United face tough start as they aim for top this time round

Robbie Neilson.
Robbie Neilson.

With most of his squad in place by the end of January, Dundee United boss Robbie Neilson will be looking for a flying start when the Championship campaign kicks off in early August.

And, on paper at least, the 2019/20 league fixtures revealed today, suggest the Tannadice men will have to hit the ground running if they are to do that.

This summer Robbie has added Liam Smith, from Ayr United, and Argentine Adrian Sporle.

With Pavol Safranko unlikely to make his loan move from Aalborg permanent, the manager has also prioritised the signing of another quality striker to work with Osman Sow and Nicky Clark in his attack.

With the majority of his players already on board, and with the benefit of a pre-season together, the Tangerines should have a settled look about them as they aim to make it fourth time lucky in their bid for a Premiership return.

However, starting with a home clash with Inverness Caley Thistle that is down for Saturday, August 3, though that could be re-arranged for TV, they will be severely tested.

And all of United’s five opening fixtures will see them clash with sides whose target for the season will be to mount a strong promotion challenge.

After the meeting with ICT, who United of course beat in last term’s play-off quarter-finals, they will head for Firhill and Partick Thistle.

Although the Jags spent most of last season battling to avoid back-to-back relegations, this time round they will be aiming to be operating at the top end of the second tier.

Then will come another road trip as Dunfermline, a team on the up since Stevie Crawford took over earlier this year, are faced at East End Park.

August will end with a first competitive derby since United were relegated at Dens Park in 2016, though this time they will entertain their city rivals at home.

Right now that game has been pencilled in for a Saturday afternoon but it has to be odds on the demands of TV will see it switched to the previous evening.

Things will not get any easier as the fixtures move into September and the middle of the month will bring a hazardous trip to Ayr. Last term Somerset Park was not a happy venue.

With Laurie Ellis in charge they went down 2-0 in the first clash.

A strong start under Robbie was brought to an abrupt end when the Ian McCall’s team came to Tannadice and the end of November and blasted five goals without reply in front of the TV cameras.

Another damaging defeat, also under the Friday night lights, followed down in the west in late January, before United recorded their first goals and a win in the fixture at Tannadice in April.

And September’s game at Somerset Park will mean in their first five league outings United will almost certainly have faced their main rivals.

After that there will be a run of more inviting clashes as newcomers Arbroath, and Morton, come to Tannadice on consecutive weekends.

Then comes a visit to Alloa, though recent history says nothing can be taken for granted against the Wasps.

Last season United could only draw on their first visit to the tight plastic pitch at the Indodrill Stadium at the beginning of September.

Then, a shock defeat at the part-timers at the end of last year proved a blow to hopes of automatic promotion.

Looking further ahead, perhaps a little strangely, two more city derbies will have been completed by the end of the year – Dens will be visited on November 9 before 2019 ends with a Tannadice clash on December 28.

If the start will be challenging, what is likely to be the promotion run-in will be tough as well.

The final four games are Inverness, Dunfermline, Dundee and Ayr.