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Match Preview - Dundee United vs Morton (6th January)


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Dundee United v Morton - Match Preview 

by Russell Gordon

Morton’s six-match unbeaten league run faces it’s sternest test to date this weekend as the ‘Ton make the journey east to face title favourites, and another of the division’s form sides, Dundee United at Tannadice. 

With both teams notching up impressive 3-0 victories in midweek, our hosts will also be aware that Morton pose a far greater threat than they may have expected earlier in the season, as the Greenock side start to look towards the play-offs at the top end of the table, rather than looking over their shoulder. 

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Photo - GBR Photographs

Squad News

Touch wood, the news on the injury front has been encouraging of late, with Jai Quitongo being the latest to return to first team action in Tuesday’s drubbing of Ayr United. ‘Ton boss Dougie Imrie has also intimated that long term casualty Calum Waters is also making steady progress and could be back in contention for a return in the not-too-distant future. 

Notably though, there was no sign of veteran custodian Jamie MacDonald on the substitute’s bench on Tuesday, a position taken by youngster Sam Murdoch. With Ryan Mullen’s impressive performances seemingly indicating that he has permanently usurped MacDoanld, one wonders if the former Hearts man could be for the exit door this month, with the transfer window now open for business. 

However, for all the silver linings, there has to be a cloud, and quite a cloud it is. Man-of-the-moment Robbie Muirhead will be unavailable to repeat his Cappielow heroics, and indeed his goalscoring performance on his last visit to Tayside as he serves a one match ban, having accumulated six yellow cards across the league campaign. 

With Morton having now reached the halfway point in the season, nobody is now walking a suspension tightrope with the bar raised to twelve games before a ban kicks in. 

Current Connections  

There aren’t too many connections in the two squads, with only the suspended Muirhead, and club captain Grant Gillepsie having plied their trade in Tangerine. Muirhead spent a year and a half at Tannadice between 2014 and 2015, making sixteen appearances and finding the net twice, before making a loan move to Partick Thistle and eventually signing for Hearts. 

Gillespie meanwhile, had a short spell with United in 2018, making only eight appearances in a dismal season for a United side who failed to win promotion at the second time of asking.

In the home dressing room is one of the few players you’ll see leaving Morton for another club in the same division with the best wishes of the Cappielow faithful. Liam Grimshaw signed on a free contract in September last season, and the affable Lancastrian quickly established himself as a fans favourite, winning a number of player of the year awards before moving onto pastures new at a club with whom Morton were never likely to compete with financially.

In the backroom, former long-serving Morton kitman, and Jack-of-all-trades Andy Bryan is now on the payroll at Tannadice, having left Cappielow during the dark old days of David Hopkin and Dave MacKinnon. 

Tale of the Tape  

The clubs have only met once this season, also at Tannadice in a game that was marred by an appalling performance from hapless referee David Munro, not for the first time in a season the FIFA official would surely like to forget. 

With Morton enduring a difficult start to the campaign, the trip to Tayside was always going to be a daunting one, and was made all the more difficult by the concession of an early goal, with the talismanic Louis Moult nodding a fine Declan Glass cross into the visitors’ net. 

Morton however, rallied and Robbie Muirhead pounced on a mix-up between former Scotland defender Declan Gallagher and United goalkeeper Jack Walton to lash home an equaliser and snatch a point just before the hour mark. 

However, five minutes later, Terrors’ winger Matthew Cudjoe was given his marching orders after a clash with Calum Waters that was spotted by Munro’s assistant. While the ordering off upset those in Tangerine, it turned out that after the event, the red card was in fact justified, with Cudjoe clearly elbowing Waters- a good spot by the stand side linesman. 

Before that, the clubs last met three times in the COVID curtailed season, with David Hopkin’s Morton side falling 0-6 to a Lawrence Shankland-inspired United at Tannadice, with the now Scotland star bagging a hat trick on a chastening afternoon for Morton.

United then registered a 2-1 victory at Cappielow, with the ex-Morton striker bagging another, and a resurgent Morton looked to have upset the odds in the final meeting at Tannadice, thanks to Kalvin Orsi’s early goal. No prizes for guessing who netted United’s injury time leveller. 

The two clubs were due to meet in Greenock on 2nd December, a game that fell foul of the weather and has yet to be re-arranged. 

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Photo - GBR Photographs

Opposition Analysis  

The title favourites have had an up-and-down season. Having endured a torrid relegation last season, the League Cup group stages saw embarrassing losses to Spartans and Partick Thistle, but United did manage an unbeaten run of fourteen games to open their league campaign. 

However, as the rest of the country was basking in Scotland’s qualification for next summer’s European Championships, United were enduring humiliating cup exits to League One minnows Falkirk and Queen of the South in the SPFL Trust Trophy and Scottish Cup respectively. 

Their unbeaten league run was ended at Tannadice by big-spending Raith Rovers, before rock-bottom Queen’s Park held them to a dismal draw in front of the BBC Scotland cameras at the National Stadium.

However, having bounced back with consecutive 3-0 wins over Partick and Arbroath, they now sit three points behind the big-spending Fifers with that Cappielow fixture in hand. 

With no cup distractions, the absolute minimum for boss Jim Goodwin is the Championship Title. I spoke to our port of call for all things Dundee United, Gary Manson, of the Shed 57 Supporters’ Club (@Shed_57) who was happy to give me his thoughts: 

“Morton are the visitors to Tannadice this weekend as they look to improve on the 1-1 draw they recorded on their last visit. The United faithful of course, are yet to savour the delights of a visit to Cappielow with the early December fixture having been washed out. 

After a grim pre-Christmas performance at Hampden where Queen’s Park earned a point in a stodgy goalless draw, United have returned to winning ways with the remainder of the festive calendar yielding six points, six goals and nothing conceded. 

The ne’er day derby was unfamiliar to those in Tangerine as traditional opponents Dundee, Aberdeen and even St. Johnstone are all in the top flight, giving United a trip to Gayfield to face Arbroath. The 3-0 scoreline underlined United’s dominance over the Red Lichties, but injuries to Declan Gallagher and Scott McMann, both of whom had to be replaced, put a dampener on an otherwise successful afternoon. 

There is no doubt that, in spite of a +33 goal difference, finding the net has been an Achilles’ heel for United this season. Tony Watt notched a hat-trick against Partick last week and Louis Moult returned to the scoresheet at Arbroath, so things may be looking more positive from an attacking perspective. 

At the back, United have been solid- conceding only seven goals- the fewest in all UK professional leagues, hence the strong positive goal difference. Luton Town loanee Jack Walton has established himself as a very capable keeper behind a confident and miserly defence. Ex-Ton man Liam Grimshaw has slotted in quite comfortably into the right back position and Gallagher and Kevin Holt have strolled most games at centre half. Even with Gallagher’s recent fitness issues, young Ross Graham has stepped up well to the back four. If McMann is unavailable for Saturday’s game, United may go for three at the back or could call in young Flynn Duffy to bolster the defence. 

There’s no doubt that the absence of ex-Partick captain Ross Docherty weakens the Tangerine’s midfield. Craig Sibbald adds dig and grit to the midfield, but Ross County loanee Jordan Tilson has taken time to settle. Glenn Middleton remains a source of frustration for the Arabs- he’s fast and mobile, but his delivery lets him down and too often he’s at the wrong place at the wrong time. He did however score United’s second on Tuesday so that may give him some confidence going forward. 

Overall for Jim Goodwin, it’s a job half done. His cup record has been shameful with United dumped out of all three cups before Santa showed up. That said, Jim’s enjoyed his ne’er day steak pie having seen only one league defeat so far. Nobody could have anticipated the run Raith Rovers have put together, but for United, 41 points from 18 games is title-winning form, and in most other seasons would have been rewarded with a decent lead at the top of the league. 

As it is- every point is a prisoner and everyone of a Tangerine persuasion will be hoping for three more of them on Saturday.” 

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Photo - GBR Photographs

What’s Happening Elsewhere? 

The BBC Scotland cameras return to Hampden a matter of weeks after United’s visit, hopefully for a more entertaining affair between the league’s bottom dogs and a Dunfermline side who slipped out of the play-off places after both sides suffered midweek derby defeats. 

In the Saturday fixtures, Airdrie will be looking for a repeat of big-spending Raith Rovers sole league defeat of the season when the league leaders visit New Broomfield. Those of a Morton persuasion may be more concerned with the league leaders putting a dent in the Diamonds’ play-off ambitions. 

Fellow mid-table sides Ayr and Inverness, will look to get back on track after difficult midweek defeats when they meet at Somerset Park, and Partick host Arbroath at Firhill. 

Betting Guide  

All odds are supplied by McBookie. All odds correct as of 7am on 5th January 2024 and are subject to change. Please only bet within your means and visit BeGambleAware if you are struggling. 

Unsurprisingly, the Terrors are favourites at 4/11, with the draw at 7/2 and Morton a fairly generous 6/1.

Morton to come out on top having been level at half time is 12/1, and George Oakley to score at any time is 7/2. 

Match Officials  

Referee- Iain Snedden officiates his second Morton game of the season, having taken charge of our 0-3 drubbing by Arbroath at Cappielow in August. 

AR 1- Paul McAvinue 

AR 2- Kenny Brown 

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