Dundee United must avoid repeat of last year’s January woes if they want a return to Premiership

Falkirk’s Peter Grant scores from a header to make it 1-1 during Dundee United’s 6-1 capitulation at the weekend. The Tangerines will be hoping for a more prosperous new year than last season.

Look at Dundee United right now and you can’t help but get a sense of deja vu or, put even more bluntly, a feeling that here we go again.

A year ago, as 2016 became 2017, the Tangerines’ season effectively unravelled.

The last game of the old year produced a second shock defeat of the campaign at part-timers Dumbarton that saw Ray McKinnon’s team lose top spot in the Championship to Hibs after just one week up there.

If that was a blow, things went from bad to worse in the opening weeks of the new year as damaging results saw them drop well off the pace in the race to grab the automatic promotion place.

Twelve months on, United were not top as they ended 2017 with a painful loss at leaders St Mirren, but had they won that one would have been.

And Saturday’s humiliating demolition at the hands of Falkirk sees them lagging six points behind the Buddies.

Dundee United manager Csaba Laszlo.

If that same kind of January slump as a year ago continues at Dunfermline this weekend, once again hopes of automatic promotion could be fatally damaged.

It makes Saturday coming, and the weeks that follow, a crucial period for Csaba Laszlo’s team.

What’s even more worrying than that feeling of history repeating itself is the fragility that’s been apparent in those defeats in Paisley and Falkirk.

Right now, United appear to be a team that can be unstoppable — but only so long as things are going their way. When they get on top of the opposition they’re capable of steamrollering over any side and winning games by a handsome margin.

Should, however, something go wrong, it seems there is no way back for them.

Against St Mirren for the entire first half and the opening minutes of the second, while never quite at their best, they were comfortably the better side.

The game was no classic but United held a clear edge and the worst they seemed to be on course to get was a goalless draw.

Then came the loss of a bad goal as Lewis Morgan was allowed too much room from which to net with a trademark strike from just outside the area.

From the moment his shot hit the back of the net, it was a case of game over.

After that opener, United were never a threat. Another Morgan goal followed and the home team ended with a comfortable three points.

Similarly, despite taking the lead against the Bairns, once Billy King’s early opener was cancelled out, they were seldom seen as an attacking threat.

This time the points were surrendered in even more spectacular fashion and, as embarrassing as the 6-1 score in Falkirk’s favour was, the truth of the proceedings was the margin of defeat could easily have been considerably worse.

As well as six goals, the home team struck the frame of the goal three times and also missed a couple of sitters.

This unwanted ability to fall out of games completely is a problem the manager is keen to address and, if his hopes of leading United back to the Premiership this year are to be realised, he knows doing so is a matter of urgency.

As a man who’s turned round the fortunes of a string of his previous clubs in double quick time, he knows the ingredients required to win promotion.

One of them, as is the case with any successful side, has to be the ability to win on the difficult days and not just those when everything goes to plan.

Right now, that’s a skill his current charges do not possess and, unless they can acquire it soon, that feeling of deja vu might just last all the way to the end of the season.