TOM DUTHIE: Dundee United need to sign another out-and-out striker

Dundee United's Pavol Safranko battles with Partick Thistle's Gary Harkins
Dundee United's Pavol Safranko battles with Partick Thistle's Gary Harkins

Two of the three signings Dundee United have made in this transfer window, as manager Robbie Neilson looks to add the quality he feels he needs to win automatic promotion, have been attack-minded in the shape of Aidan Nesbitt and Cammy Smith.

And it should come as no surprise the manager will continue to work to bolster his attack between now an the end of the month by adding another central striker to his options.

Although the Tangerines’ narrow victory over Dunfermline last weekend saw them close the gap to Championship leaders Ross County to just three points, not lost on Neilson will be the fact the three points taken from the Pars clash was only his team’s second win in their last seven.

During that run, only once have United, in the pre-Christmas victory over Falkirk, scored more than a single goal, highlighting the need for a player to be found who can provide a more frequent goal supply than has been forthcoming of late.

Dundee United striker Nicky Clark notched the only goal of the game against Dunfermline at Tannadice on Saturday as he came off the bench to partner Pavol Safranko up front for 20 minutes

If Nicky Clark, the man who got the weekend winner against one of his former clubs, stays fit, it’s fair to assume he will hit the back of the net frequently.

A proven scorer, particularly at this level, his return of six goals in 14 appearances since joining up in the summer represents a pretty decent goals-to-game ratio.

The issue for the 27-year-old has been getting on the pitch.

Injury problems mean he has missed almost half the games so far and if you take into account the number of times when, like last Saturday, he’s only been fit enough for the bench, more than half United’s game time this season has been without him.

As well as reduce the goal threat, his absences have given the manager a tactical headache.

Since early on in his time in charge, Neilson has said he would like to be able to go with the option of playing two out-and-out central strikers.

More often than not, though, on-loan Pavol Safranko has had to be used in that role on his own.

And as much as his admirable work ethic has made the Slovakian a firm favourite with both gaffer and fans, his promising start at Tannadice, in terms of goals, has now faded. That’s a worry.

Seven goals in his first 13 games after arriving from Danes Aalborg in August suggested the man to get the goals to fire them to promotion had been found.

The last seven games, with just one strike to his credit, have dampened such expectations.

And while that work he puts in when up front, often on his own, means he continues to be a vital cog in the wheel for the team, there is little question he’d benefit from a regular strike partner.

Of course, the arrival of Nesbitt and Smith should help ease the burden on whoever is right up front but only to a degree.

Both are capable of chipping in with goals but a good chunk of the work they do is likely to be in creating chances as opposed to taking them.

Putting more goals in the team would also ease the pressure on the defence.

While the back four have been leaking too many goals this season, they’ve too often taken to the pitch knowing the loss of just one goal may well see a point or points dropped.

That’s why the next couple of weeks will see Neilson, presumably backed by new owner Mark Ogren’s money, pull out all the stops to find another quality striker.

Particularly in this transfer window, that’s usually easier said than done.

If he succeeds and United are back in the top flight come the end of the season it would have been well worth the effort.