TOM DUTHIE: Are the January jitters striking Dundee United once again?

Then-Dundee United boss Csaba Laszlo raged at the 6-1 loss at Falkirk this time last year
Then-Dundee United boss Csaba Laszlo raged at the 6-1 loss at Falkirk this time last year

Are the January jitters going to kill off Dundee United’s hopes of winning automatic promotion from the Championship for a third year running?

That’s the question that has been giving Arabs nightmares after their team kicked off 2019 with a disappointing home draw against Partick Thistle at the weekend.

The failure to beat a Jags side that had recorded just one success in their previous 13 outings, and are now battling to avoid back-to-back relegations, means in three seasons back down in the second tier the Tangerines have recorded just one victory in eight league fixtures faced during the first month of the year.

And in the past two seasons that’s meant by the end of the month they were, realistically, left aiming for no better than the promotion play-offs at the end of the regular campaign.

To be completely accurate, it should be said the rot has started right at the end of the old year and continued through January.

Two seasons ago under Ray McKinnon, United reached a Hogmanay trip to Dumbarton in top form having just gone top of the division a week earlier.

Dundee United lost 1-0 to Dumbarton on Hogmanay 2016

For the second time that season, however, they crashed to a shock defeat at the hands of the Sons and through January failed to recover as they went without a win in their three league outings.

Eventual champions Hibs crushed them 3-0 in a Friday night clash that saw the men from the capital make an emphatic statement that they, not United, were the team to beat.

There followed a disappointing home draw with Queen of the South and the month ended with another share of the spoils at Dunfermline.

Sandwiched in between those stalemates was a Scottish Cup visit to Premiership Ross County that did nothing to boost morale – the Staggies running out big winners by 6-2.

Fast forward a year to Csaba Laszlo’s time as manager and it was another season-defining period.

The final game of 2017 saw a chance to go top blown when United went down 2-0 at leaders St Mirren and, although the New Year kicked-off with a comfortable 4-1 home success against doomed Brechin, after that the bottom quickly fell out of their promotion challenge.

A trip to struggling Falkirk looked the perfect opportunity to take another three points to keep the pressure on the Buddies.

Instead, United crashed to a 6-1 loss to the Bairns that has to go down as one of their worst results in recent decades.

A trip to Dunfermline had to again be negotiated and only a point was taken.

If this time round the cup provided some respite via a 2-0 win at Alloa, the month ended with another crushing defeat as Morton visited Tannadice and chalked up a 3-0 success that on the day might have been even better for the visitors.

That’s why, following the now seemingly obligatory end-of-year defeat when a winning position was blown at Alloa the week before last, Saturday’s draw and below-par performance against the Jags will have alarm bells ringing among fans.

Their big hope this time round has to be that, backed by the millions of new American owner Mark Ogren, the new players the manager has already started bringing to the club in the window will give the team a lift.

Another home game this Saturday, when Dunfermline are the visitors, will provide a decent opportunity to take three points.

With Montrose to follow in the cup and high-flying Ayr to be visited a fortnight on Friday, a win against the Pars looks a must, or those January jitters could again be season-defining.