Celtic will face something of the unknown when they head to Tannadice tomorrow evening – kick off 17.30 – to meet Dundee United in a top flight league fixture for the first time since 2016.
Celtic will of course be looking to exorcise the ghosts of their last away fixture where a 1-1 draw at Kilmarnock appeared to have derailed the 10-in-a-row campaign until ‘the’ Rangers proved their inability to cope with pressure remains their Achilles heel with Sunday’s goalless draw at Livingston.
Confidence amongst the Celtic camp will have been boosted further with a thumping Champions League 1st qualifying win against KR Reykjavik, with the Hoops handing out a six of the best thrashing to an out of touch Icelandic side. It is likely in fact that Dundee United will offer a far tougher test than Tuesday night’s European opponents.
Since being relegated on 2 May 2016 after a 2-1 defeat to City rivals Dundee, United had been in the Championship wilderness for a little longer than most would have expected. For fans of a certain vintage having a Scottish top flight minus Dundee United for such an extensive period of time was strange indeed. Their welcome return follows a 3rd place finish in 16-17 season then defeat at the hands of Hamilton in the play offs. Then in 2017/18 it was another 3rd place finish, and further play off heartbreak as the Tangerines lost out to Livingston. The same thing happened again the next season.
After a summer where it was mostly legal wrangles and battling against the null and void vultures in Scottish football – sound familiar? – United were eventually promoted as deserved Scottish Championship winners, finishing a massive 14 points clear when the league was called. The club also saw off Hearts desperate attempts to overturn what was rightfully won on the football pitch via the courts.
A new boss: Micky Mellon may sound like Del Trotter’s go to guy for knock off Beta Max video supplies or the middle man in the recent Castore kit supplier contract negotiations with ‘the’ Rangers board, but on Saturday the former Shrewsbury Town and Tranmere Rovers boss will be tasked with bringing his ducking and diving skills honed in the English lower leagues to the Scottish Premiership as he and his Dundee United team attempt to derail Celtic’s Ten-in-a-Row aspirations.
The Paisley born 48 year old ended his four-year stay at Prenton Park this summer where he won back to back promotions having previously also achieved promotion when in charge at both Fleetwood and Shrewsbury, and if reports were to be believed Melon headed off former England boss Steve McClaren and Scottish FA performance director Malky Mackay to claim the job. Whilst United fans may have been disappointed to miss out on McLaren at least you can safely be assured there would have been a collective sigh of relief when you consider both Jon Daly and Austin MacPhee were also reportedly interviewed.
An impressive start
Since taking over from Robbie Neilson – who must be about as popular at Tannadice as Boli Bolingoli at an EasyJet check in desk – following his late withdrawal from top flight football to take over at basket case club Hearts, it’s fair to say Mellon has had a pretty impressive start to the season.
Since the real stuff began Mellon and his side have opened with a 1-1 draw at home against St Johnstone before defeating last season’s high fliers Motherwell by a goal to nil. They followed with a first defeat of the season going down 1-0 to a good Hibs side before last weekend’s impressive 2-1 win to fast starting Ross County in Dingwall.
Such form, if kept up for the season ahead, would see United remain safe in the Scottish top flight. All the more impressive considering Mellon’s side have had to start the season minus talisman striker Lawrence Shankland.
Saturday’s visit from Celtic will of course be United’s biggest challenge to date but they could hardly be in a better place to face the Champions.
United like many Scottish clubs has seen changes in personnel but unlike many of their rivals they appear to have kept the changes to a minimum, perhaps a sign Mellon at least wishes to give those players who won the championship a chance to prove themselves in the Premiership, to date it’s a tactic that appears to be paying off.
For those arriving at the club Goalkeeper Jack Newman has signed on from Sunderland and is joined by Manchester City’s Luke Bolton as the winger joins on loan. The only other addition has been defender Ryan Edwards who has signed on following a spell with Blackpool.
Passing those players on the way out were defenders Paul Watson, heading to Dunfermline and Sam Wardrop signing on with Dumbarton while forwards Rakish Bingham and Osman Sow both left Tannadice and remain without a club.
One to watch
If fit enough to play then Lawrence Shankland’s goal threat would be the obvious threat to the Celtic defence. Now a full Scottish international the former Aberdeen and Ayr United striker was United’s top goalscorer last season and player of the year.
His form has been enough to warrant a series of top level scouts – including Celtic – to keep a close eye on his progress. If United have any top six aspirations then keeping hold of Shankland beyond the closing of the transfer window on 5 October is a must. If they hope to have the firepower in their ranks to hurt Celtic they’ll also need him on the pitch tomorrow night.
— Jim Spence (@JimSpenceDundee) August 21, 2020
One to target
Now 33 central defender Mark Reynolds, released by Aberdeen has signed on permanently following an initial loan spell during last season’s Championship campaign.
Knee injuries have hampered the players since the 2017-2018 season and his major asset his pace has now been diminished a little. That Aberdeen were willing to cut their losses on the player and the fact he had to drop to the lower leagues for first team football indicates pace and movement of Celtic’s forward players could make for an uncomfortable afternoon for Reynolds.
Having Dundee United back on the fixture list season is good for the Scottish Premiership. In normal circumstances they have a decent support and it would be a good away trip for Celtic’s travelling fans, however in the behind closed doors structure we’ll have to make do with hoping that by the time Celtic return to Tannadice later this season supporters are allowed back in the ground.
This is a big game for both clubs as United try and maintain a solid start to the season and Celtic look to get back on track after dropping points at Rugby Park. It should make for a competitive encounter. Over the course of the season United remaining in the Scottish Premiership preferably at the expense of a club with a plastic pitch would be welcome.