TOM DUTHIE: Dundee United need time to gel but have to put stuttering start behind them

United have struggled against Dumbarton in recent times.

After a performance like the weekend’s when Dundee United only just scraped a home draw with a part-time Dumbarton side, whose definition of success for this season is avoiding relegation, it may not seem like it but there is good news for Dundee United fans.

For a start, despite the weekend travails, their team sits just two points off the top of the Championship and, such is the cutthroat nature of this division, it’s not inconceivable victory at Falkirk on Saturday will see them end the day back in first place.

And a glance at some of the names in Ray McKinnon’s squad, ones like Willo Flood, Scott McDonald, James Keatings, Billy King, Sam Stanton, Fraser Fyvie and Scott Fraser, tells you there is enough quality for them to live up to their pre-season billing as strong favourites for promotion.

Without question such players have the ability to be at the top of the Championship.

On top of that, with no fewer than 14 new arrivals over the summer months, it should perhaps have come as no surprise this season’s team was going to need some time to gel.

Indeed, the early signs that would happen were encouraging. United did breeze through their Betfred Cup qualifying group and if exit at the hands of city rivals Dundee in the first knockout round was painful, on the night they were by no means disgraced.

None of that, though, changes the fact in recent outings the team has not performed as well as they should have.

They did open the league campaign with three victories but in the third of them, an uninspiring single-goal home success over Brechin City, signs things were not right were there for all to see.

That was confirmed in a below-par performance when United were well beaten at St Mirren. To an extent it continued the following week with a Betfred Cup clash with Alloa when two late goals were needed for victory.

It should be said it was a much changed line-up that day as manager Ray McKinnon used what is a largely-irrelevant competition to give a string of teenagers top-team experience.

That couldn’t change the fact that, on paper, the line-up still should have been too strong for League One opponents.

With the team back to full strength against Dumbarton at the weekend, the problems continued as only a late strike from James Keatings saw them avoid another embarrassing loss to a side who were their bogey team last season.

The lacklustre display brought the rare sound of boos from the home stands. As much as Arabs have had to suffer in recent seasons, they have tended to keep their criticisms of club and team away from match days.

That they vented their spleens during a match was an indication that, while there are good reasons as to why this United team might not be at their best yet, they should be better than they are.

The message from the George Fox and East Stands was clear and valid, namely that two months into the campaign it’s time for United to click.

McKinnon’s players must realise that and step up. His is a squad packed with strong characters and the time has come for them to show that out on the pitch.

There would be no better place for them to start than at the Falkirk Stadium this weekend. It was, after all, at that venue one of the highlights of last season came.

Having struggled there during the regular campaign, United returned in the play-offs heavily tipped to lose after drawing the first leg. Instead, they produced a 90 minutes of character that saw them through to the play-off final. The same again this time would be welcome.