Dundee United relegated: Where it went wrong for Tannadice club

Dundee United relegated: Where it went wrong for Tannadice club

Abject defeat by Kilmarnock effectively confirmed Dundee United's fate
Abject defeat by Kilmarnock in midweek effectively confirmed Dundee United’s fate before Sunday’s final-day defeat to Motherwell confirmed relegation

Confirmation, when it came finally came, felt like a sort of mercy.

Relegation has inhabited Dundee United this season, squatting in the corridors of Tannadice and steadfastly refusing to take up residence elsewhere.

Perhaps, for a week or two last month, it seemed it might be collecting its things and considering moving to Dingwall, Kilmarnock or even Perth. But the conditions in which it had thrived on Tayside proved too enticing.

Successive defeats by St Johnstone, Ross County and Livingston did the decisive damage. Defeat by Kilmarnock didn’t quite finalise the arithmetic. The loss at Motherwell did.

United were, effectively, going down before a ball was kicked at Fir Park on Sunday. And arguably they have been since late August.

It was then, in an interview with BBC Scotland, that sporting director Tony Asghar looked askance at even being asked if the possibility had been contemplated.

United had just been humiliated in Alkmaar, lost three in a row in the league, and were joint bottom of the division after four games. Jack Ross was still the manager, as hard as that is to believe given how long ago it seems.

Within three days, Celtic had put nine past them on their own turf. It was one of the most bereft displays ever witnessed at Tannadice, although it’s had plenty competition since.

Ross couldn’t survive that. Assistant Liam Fox did. In fact he was promoted, being asked to rouse a heralded but heartless squad. He couldn’t. And never looked like being able to.

Another horrendous thumping, this time at County in February, put him out of his misery.

Finger of blame has many targets

Next to the gallows was Jim Goodwin, but only after former manager Craig Levein poked around inside the club and decided he would rather host a podcast instead.

Goodwin, dismissed by Aberdeen a month earlier after they risked rivalling United in the humiliation stakes, was greeted with a four-point deficit at the bottom having played a game fewer than Kilmarnock and County.

The Irishman steadied things, then actually looked like he might rescue the situation with a run of three wins, before the squad returned to type with a succession of feckless performances.

So what’s gone wrong? Are the players to blame? Does the fault lie with the coaching staff and recruitment team? Or is Asghar and the structure he instituted the root of the ills? In truth, it’s probably all of the above, and more.

Whispers of malign influences in the changing room have been persistent and very few players could claim to have done themselves justice. None of the managers can legislate for the countless horrifying individual mistakes made.

That said, all three might have exiled calamitous goalkeeper Mark Birighitti long before they did and Ross and Fox, at least, had some influence on the upholstering of the squad. Goodwin has been left to make a coherent unit from an incoherent squad.

The failure of Asghar and recruitment co-ordinator Sean McGee to address some of those issues in January looks just as inexcusable now as it did then. The fact Levein made his excuses with such haste speaks of further problems.

The absent owner

And what of owner Mark Ogren, who arrived from America this week just in time to witness the wretchedness conclude. He bought the club in 2018 with grand notions of making it profitable. This is not how his five-year plan was supposed to end.

No United fan could reasonably say Ogren has not invested – the club has the sixth-biggest playing budget in the country and he has upgraded a load of fixtures and fittings – but he allowed this mess to unfold in his absence.

United, saddled with a squad of high earners and lacking much in the way of transfer assets, are already going to be under significant financial pressure without the risk of an owner potentially looking to recoup the £13m he has invested.

However, in the wake of United’s relegation being confirmed by defeat at Motherwell, Ogren sought to calm concerns he may not stick around for another season in the Championship.

The American issued a statement insisting he remains “fully committed” to the club, while admitting “mistakes have been made, hard lessons have been learned” and “we have let our supporters down”.

Then there’s Goodwin. Having initially being appointed until the end of the season, he has now been handed a two-year deal and the responsibility to lead “the exciting challenge of revitalising the football department”. It is no small task.

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