TOM DUTHIE: Time has come for Dundee United to finally show their true title credentials

Dundee United need to make amends for the 5-0 home loss to Ayr United earlier in the season by securing victory over the Honest Men at Somerset Park on Friday night
Dundee United need to make amends for the 5-0 home loss to Ayr United earlier in the season by securing victory over the Honest Men at Somerset Park on Friday night

From the low of a shock end-of-year defeat at Alloa leading to fears the goal for the rest of the regular season would be to secure a play-off spot, things are suddenly looking up for Dundee United.

The arrival in person of new owner Mark Ogren came with a pledge to give manager Robbie Neilson the funds he needs to get promotion.

Dundee United owner Mark Ogren

And perhaps, just as importantly, the promise this is a long-term project and if it doesn’t happen this term, money will be ploughed in to make sure it does next. It gave everyone with a liking for the Tangerines a lift.

So, too, did a dramatic shrinking of the seven-point gap at the top of the Championship courtesy of Neilson’s team taking four points from consecutive home games, while top two Ross County and Ayr United each lost two in a row.

That means, for a few hours at least, United can join leaders County on the 39-point mark if they win the second tier’s game of the weekend at Ayr on Friday night.

They would, of course, still trail the Staggies, who have a vastly superior goal difference, but just being up there would be another boost.

A win would also cancel out the game in hand Ayr hold over United, though they too have a better goal difference. And whatever happens at Somerset Park, Ian McCall’s team will be above them if they beat Inverness next midweek.

Perhaps, though, the biggest benefit to United this weekend can be the type of performance that, whatever the points, makes a statement that they’re the ones to beat. That, unfortunately, is something they’ve largely failed to do in three seasons down in the Championship.

Past glories, some of them recent, mean United start every campaign as favourites for promotion.

And any team walking into Tannadice on a Saturday sees a club geared for football in the Premiership.

Too often, however, any edge that’s given United has disappeared because of performances.

Even when they’ve lost, in the last two-and-a-half years sides have come out of games against them feeling reputation and expectation have not matched the sum of the parts of the team they’ve faced.

Results like two defeats away to Dumbarton the season before last, a 6-1 loss at Falkirk last term and two five-goal home losses in this campaign, have led to opposition throughout the division believing they always have a chance when facing United.

In truth, even the draw with Partick Thistle this month and the win over Dunfermline that closed the gap at the top to those three points, were not as convincing as was expected.

That’s repeatedly been the case during the two failed attempts to get up. In the big games, too often United have come up short.

They did beat Hibs at Tannadice near the end of 2017 but lost heavily to them soon after and quickly dropped off the pace at the top.

And if they won twice at Tannadice against last season’s table toppers St Mirren, the first time came before the Buddies were regarded as their main rivals and the second after Jack Ross’s team were out of sight at the top.

This time round, the best so far came up in Dingwall in November when County were beaten 1-0.

Without taking anything away from that success, after Paul Watson’s early goal put them ahead, the three points were secured via a gritty rearguard action.

Yes, it was the kind of performance that is needed at times in a successful league campaign.

So, too, do emphatic victories that tell the rest of the league you are a team to be feared. There would be no better time for such a statement than Friday in Ayrshire.

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