Dundee United boss Micky Mellon would be forgiven for feeling fatigued after his first season in charge at Tannadice came to an end.
Yesterday’s 0-0 draw at St Mirren brought the curtain down on a campaign like no other for everyone involved in Scottish football.
We all had to adjust to Covid-ball – testing, masks, self-isolation, delays, disruptions and restarts but, above all, echoing stadiums bereft of supporters, the lifeblood of our game.
Without fans, football isn’t what we all first fell in love with. Atmosphere has been replaced with abandoned stands; yet with nowhere near as much apathy as, perhaps, initially expected.
🗣 "I was delighted to get the opportunity today. When you're younger you always want to be the captain for your team."
— Dundee United FC (@dundeeunitedfc) May 16, 2021
Beyond those battles, the United gaffer, who is yet to properly introduce himself to the Arabs, has had to win over the tangerine hordes to Mellon-ball.
As aforementioned, they’ve not been an apathetic support this term, the send-offs they gave the team for recent Scottish Cup clashes are proof of that, but at times there has been indifference.
The weekend’s stalemate in Paisley sums up that struggle.
The Terrors weren’t at their swashbuckling best like we’ve seen on the odd occasion this season, against Aberdeen in the cup and Livingston and Ross County in the league, but they weren’t awful either.
That’s resulted in a comfortable ninth-placed finish, just a point behind St Johnstone in the final European qualification place.
🏆 Scottish Premiership table pic.twitter.com/iQmi9FiDCI
— SPFL (@spfl) May 16, 2021
For their first season back in the Premiership since 2016, following winning the Championship last term, to be disappointed with narrowly missing out on the top-six, coming close to finishing seventh post-split and making Hampden for a Scottish Cup semi-final is clear progress.
That steady, subtle improvement has come at a cost, though, as, admittedly, the style of football employed by Mellon hasn’t always been easy on the eye.
At a club where the shadow of Jim McLean’s practically-unattainable legacy hangs over whoever is in the manager’s office, the expectations are high.
Winning trophies, European football and developing their own talent: as challenging as the aims may be, Mellon is ready to meet them head on.
‘I’ll probably have to win the Scottish Cup and break into the top four!’
“I embrace the expectations at the football club,” he said.
“If we got a point more in the league and a referee’s decision for an offside doesn’t go against us at Hampden, we could have been top six and in a Scottish Cup Final.
“Everyone is asking me to go and beat that now. I’ll probably have to win the Scottish Cup and break into the top four!
“I’ll endeavour and try my best to achieve that.
“As a manager you always want more, you’re always greedy.
“I came into a team that hadn’t played in the Premiership and I hadn’t managed in it, so it was a big learning curve.
“At times we were brilliant, at times we weren’t so brilliant but we kept going.
“We kept trying to improve all the time and yesterday’s performance is a way towards how we want to play, minus the finishing touch.”
Mellon ‘enjoying the job’ at Tannadice
Despite continually reiterating his ‘100% commitment’ to the cause, there still remains doubts over Mellon’s future on Tannadice Street.
Interest in his services from English League One side Doncaster last month hasn’t helped the sense of feeling that his time at the club is coming to an end.
However, he once more set his stall out, insisting, as far as he’s aware, the preparations for next term are already under way.
— Calum Woodger (@CalumWoodger) May 16, 2021
Mellon reaffirmed: “I don’t know if everyone wants rid of me or they think I’m really good. I can’t work out which one it is!
“I’m enjoying the job here, I’ve said all along it’s difficult for me to comment on it as people will say he’s hiding something.
“I’m enjoying the job here and until I’m told something different I will continue to do what I’m doing and that’s what I expect to be doing.”
Jaded after gruelling campaign but hopeful for future
When he speaks about the project at United, Mellon’s passion is clear, albeit he appears a little jaded after a gruelling campaign.
A rest will do he and his team good headed into their sophomore Scottish Premiership season – and it is clear the focus will be on the freshness and enthusiasm of youth.
With Archie Meekison, Kerr Smith, Logan Chalmers and Louis Appere all starting for the second top-flight match in a row, Mellon is excited for what the future holds.
He enthused: “We have a numbers of lads here. We want to try to grow our own players.
“We don’t want to block any pathways – we want to give them opportunities to play.
“I’m at a stage of my career now where I can take the hits and the bumps for the young players who may make mistakes as they develop.
“We want them to get opportunities, make mistakes, show growth, pick them back up again and drive them forward because I think we’ve got a lot of good talent here.”