2020/21 Season Preview - Dundee United: The Long-Awaited Return
After a long 4 years stuck in the Championship, Dundee United are finally back in the top flight of Scottish Football. It's been far from an easy journey, with playoff heartbreaks devastating Terrors fans as upsets and a whole load of penalties missed meant United would miss out on a few occasions. However, with the arrival of Robbie Neilson and Lawrence Shankland, the former Uefa Cup runners up have successfully completed their return to the top flight, with United ahead at the top when the season was called early due to the Coronavirus.
The season always looked like United's but they'll be gutted they never got to complete the season in proper fashion and celebrate with their fans. The main thing is that one of Scotland's bigger clubs is back in the top flight and it will be extremely interesting to see how they fare in the top flight. The Terrors faced off against two Premiership sides last season, a two-match affair against Hibs in the Scottish Cup and a Betfred Cup outing against the now relegated Hearts.
United drew against both Edinburgh sides, forcing a replay back to Easter Road in the Scottish Cup where they were eventually downed 4-2 in a close affair. Robbie Neilson's side showed last season that they were capable of contending at a higher level despite not coming out on top, with the continuing brilliance of Lawrence Shankland shining through. Shankland scored in all three ties against the teams in the top flight and would go on to enjoy yet another tremendous season, scoring 28 goals in all competitions. The former Ayr United striker has a great reputation that was bolstered by a great season at Tannadice which earned him callups to the Scotland National Team, where he scored yet again.
A lot of noise is made about Shankland and quite rightfully so. His scoring record is absolutely phenomenal and his presence on the park means there always a danger for opposition defences. However, despite all of the praise and plaudits he has received, it's worth noting that Shankland is still largely unproven playing week in and out in the top flight. With only 17 appearances in the Premiership, Shankland still has a lot to prove at this level but luckily, proving his quality is what Shankland excels at and he is fully expected to succeed yet again.
With a great campaign for the club the season prior, things were shaken up as Robbie Neilson opted to rejoin his former club Hearts in the Championship. Combined with the legal battles between the clubs, this was a massive surprise that came out of nowhere and has certainly added to the fire between the two clubs. Replacing Neilson is Micky Mellon, a manager who fell victim to being relegated due to the epidemic with Tranmere Rovers, who is taking his first steps in football within his native country. A new manager can be exciting but when jumping into a new league as a club and a manager who is inexperienced in the country, it can be quite the risk.
In recent years, a couple of teams have promoted to the Premiership and suffered managerial losses before a ball has been kicked. Hibs, St Mirren and Livingston all lost the managers who got them promoted, with the latter twos replacements completely failing to replicate similar standards. Livingston and Kenny Miller had a very short-lived relationship whilst Alan Stubbs had a poor stint at St Mirren before being replaced by Oran Kearney. Both clubs stints with these managers were far from successful and the quick decisions to replace them ended up saving both sides seasons, with Kearney keeping St Mirren afloat and Gary Holt going on to have a brilliant tenure so far at Livingston. United fans will be hoping they won't have to suffer a similar fate, with the new manager having significantly less time to get his squad assembled and into shape for the new season.
Micky Mellon will have to rely on the current squad, with 19-year-old goalkeeper Jack Newman the only new arrival so far. Mellon will be working closely with the existing staff to make sure his team are in the best possible condition to compete in the top flight. Competitive friendlies against Livingston and Motherwell will have given Mellon an idea of where his squad lines up and a 4-1 victory over a Rangers B side should add some confidence early on. Mellon's fate will soon be seen as you can never really guess how a manager will do, especially in these current times. The return to the top flight has been long-awaited by United fans who will be expecting the club to stay up safely, especially considering others such as Livingston, Ross County and St Mirren have done so in recent seasons.
Dundee United will come in as a surprise package, with not many teams facing off against the side in recent years which could lead to a number of surprises. Many might focus too much on Shankland and forget about other threats posed from the likes of Paul McMullan, Peter Pawlett and Nicky Clark. It'll be exciting to see United back in the top flight and their ardent and colourful support will be a great sight to see once fans can return to games. The fans will be delighted to be finally swapping the trips to Alloa and Arbroath for the games against Celtic and Rangers which has been way overdue.