To say it’s been a tough few weeks for Dundee United is possibly the understatement of the season so far.
From riding high under new boss Csaba Laszlo up until Christmas, the Tangerines have slumped to defeat against St Mirren, then Falkirk and a draw at Dunfermline that’s seen them drop eight points off the pace at the top of the Championship.
With 15 games to go in the race for automatic promotion, that might not quite constitute a crisis, but it does mean it’s fair to say the campaign has reached a critical point.
Put bluntly, United must regain form quickly or hopes of a Premiership return will, for the second season running, rest on finding a way to negotiate the play-offs.
After the agony of last year when they went so close before falling at the final hurdle at Hamilton, no one at Tannadice needs telling how difficult that can be.
Those post-season games are designed to give the club that finishes second bottom in the top flight the best possible chance of staying up.
That’s not fair on the sides from the second tier but it’s the way it is and it makes avoiding them highly desirable.
For United, the best, possibly only, chance of doing that would appear to be by going on an extended winning run.
It could happen without one, if leaders St Mirren were to collapse. Right now the chances of that seem to be somewhere between none and extremely slim.
Jack Ross’s Buddies have won nine and drawn one of their last 11 games and, if anything like that form is maintained, they are going to be very hard to catch.
They have the momentum and, at this stage in any season, that’s usually crucial.
If United are to buck that trend, they need to be chalking up victories week-in, week-out, and hope the Paisley men do start feeling the pressure.
To do that, though, they will have to regain the creative spark that disappeared from the team after Fraser Fyvie and, in particular, Scott Fraser were sidelined by long-term injury.
Since Fraser limped off in Paisley with another break to his metatarsal, there has generally been a lack of chances created.
Four goals were put past Brechin at Tannadice in the next game but, with all due respect to Darren Dods’ part-timers, that was no great surprise.
In the subsequent trips to Falkirk and Dunfermline, chances were few and far between.
That was despite commanding an almost equal share of possession in the hammering at the Bairns and dominating the ball against the Pars.
What they were unable to do was create good openings in front of goal — just two shots on target at East End Park and four the previous week.
On both occasions, they were comfortably outgunned by the opposition and, unless that changes, it’s hard to see how Laszlo can get his team back to the top.
If he is to do so, perhaps the best route would be a change in formation.
Having added Danish target man Emil Lyng to the ranks this month, he now has to option of going with a two-pronged attack and that’s something that might suit veteran striker Scott McDonald.
The veteran Aussie has not done badly when filling in for Fraser in the No 10 role just behind the main striker, but there is no question his best work continues to be seen in the penalty box.
His nine goals from 22 games represents a respectable return, particularly when he’s often been the lone striker.
Were he to be paired with Lyng right up top, he might just produce the goals that would spark the kind of run United need to save their season.