It was a rollercoaster year – and Dundee United had plenty of ups and downs along the way. Now it’s time for Ian Roache to sum up the Tangerines’ 2020…
Did United exceed or fall short of expectations in 2020?
The answer to this is in two parts, firstly their promotion and then their Premiership return.
In winning the title they met expectations as most people – myself included – felt this would be the year when they would end their stay in the second tier.
After the St Mirren spot kick disaster, they had to do what was absolutely necessary to finish as champions and thus avoid the play-offs.
Owner Mark Ogren invested in the squad and that paid off, most spectacularly so in the goals scored by striker Lawrence Shankland.
He was the difference in so many games and, for years to come, fans should credit him for being the perfect player at such a crucial time in the club’s history.
Since the start of the top-flight campaign, I would say United have exceeded expectations under new boss Micky Mellon.
This has been the most challenging of years for everyone – individuals and clubs – and the Tangerines have faced adversity with both stoicism and tenacity.
As the year ended, they sat proudly in the top half of the table.
Although some of their play could have been easier on the eye, to be sitting with 25 points is better than I hoped for when it all kicked off in August.
What was the craziest moment covering United?
There were a few candidates for this but, after much deliberation, we have to go back to the sunny days of mid-June for this choice.
After four challenging seasons criss-crossing Scotland to report on United’s ups and downs in the Championship, finally I could call them a top-flight team again. Or could I?
When news came through that they, along with Raith Rovers and Cove Rangers, had been served with a petition lodged in the Court of Session that aimed to block their promotion it was a genuinely stunning development.
Hearts and Partick Thistle were suddenly not just rival clubs but courtroom adversaries. It was incredible stuff.
The whole sorry episode had a huge impact on United, who had a cloud of doubt hanging over them during what should have been an exciting time preparing for their big return.
What was the biggest disappointment?
Not merely a disappointment but a real tragedy.
The death of legendary manager Jim McLean has saddened the whole United community.
He will be forever remembered as a tactical magician who brought glory to the Tangerines.
Of less magnitude but still disappointing, it was a shame that the United fans missed out on a title-clinching moment because of the shutdown and were robbed by the virus of a flag-unfurling celebration.
What was the best goal you saw for and against United in 2020?
For: He hasn’t scored as many as he would have liked this season but it is still no surprise that striker Shankland wins this vote.
His volley against St Mirren at Tannadice on Saturday, September 19 was something to behold and probably his finest goal in a United jersey.
Against: This is another easy decision, with James Tavernier of Rangers getting the nod for his magnificent 30-yard free kick against the Tangerines on December 13.
Who was the best player for and against United?
For: Put your hands up for big Benji. Swiss shot-stopper Benjamin Siegrist has been the runaway success story for the Tangerines this term.
The sadly now late but always great Diego Maradona used to win games on his own (anything to get a mention in of the wee Argentinian). While Siegrist hasn’t quite done that – he maybe should try a mazy run or two – he has already been worth several points already.
The prime example of his enormous value to United came most recently in the away match against Hibs, when his string of brilliant saves enabled teammate Luke Bolton to snatch an unlikely late equaliser.
Against: It has to be Rangers captain Tavernier.
He stood out from the crowd when the teams met earlier this month and, as well as his own wonder strike, crossed for the winner that was scored by Connor Goldson.
I would confidently predict Tavernier will be Scotland’s Player of the Year when the gongs are handed out at the end of this season.
Will Mark Ogren still be Dundee United owner this time next year?
Ogren has had a successful business career and you don’t survive and thrive in the cut-and-thrust of American commerce by giving in to pressures and difficulties.
This isn’t what he signed up for – of course it’s not – but these are exceptional times that will, we all hope, make way for a brighter future.
I just feel Ogren will play the long game at United, largely because it has been so tough so far.
He will want to show he is no quitter, dig in and eventually reap the rewards of the decision he made two years ago to put his hard-earned cash into Scottish football.
Prediction for United:
United will keep themselves in the Premiership safety zone despite some scary results along the way.
I fear there could be departures, with the exit of Siegrist now arguably even likelier than a move for Shankland.
Nevertheless, they will have enough to hang on to their top-flight status, which should have been their target for the season.
On the plus side, vaccinated fans will be back in the stands in late spring to see manager Micky Mellon giving more game time to two defensive stars of the future: Kerr Smith and Lewis Neilson.
With the pandemic eventually easing off, Mellon will also be given the chance in the summer to explore the English market he knows so well and will pick up a player or two that will become key members of his side next season.