Dundee United struggling to halt slide towards the drop

By Richard WilsonBBC Scotland
United have won just two league games all season
United have won just two league games all season

The extent of Dundee United's predicament can be seen in their isolation.

The Tannadice club are now seven points adrift at the bottom of the Premiership, and the campaign is now taking on the brutal air of a crisis.

Mixu Paatelainen even agreed that the description was not too stark following his side's 2-1 loss to Hamilton at the weekend. For a second successive week, he watched his side concede the lead before losing at home.

St Johnstone inflicted the same scoreline the previous weekend, and the new United manager is now in the midst of a desperate struggle.

There can be no other summation when the team has lost six of the seven games played since Paatelainen succeeded Jackie McNamara in October. During that run, they have conceded 15 goals and scored only three, and they are bottom of the Premiership's form league.

The sense around the club remains that the manager will succeed. There is faith in his work ethic and the demanding nature of a personality that will not shirk from any looming fight.

Lack of resolve

The team needs more than hard-headed guidance, though. Confidence is an ephemeral quality, but it is clear that United have been drained of all of their reserves.

Mixu Paatelainen has brought in Sinama Pongolle and Demel to aid United's fight for survival
Mixu Paatelainen has brought in Sinama Pongolle and Demel to aid United's fight for survival

What other conclusion can be drawn when a striker known for periods of prolific scoring can suffer regular moments of indecision inside the penalty area as Billy McKay did against Hamilton? Even after he opened the scoring, the Northern Irishman could have added to United's lead but failed to convert when he was one-on-one with the Hamilton goalkeeper.

Paatelainen made the same observation himself when he said afterwards that if "you don't put them in the net then you pay the price; you're asking for trouble".

He also noted that he "must question [the] mentality" of members of his squad.

United look like a team that realises it is in trouble. There is quality in the squad, but it is in a fragile state at the moment.

Additions have been made, but the likes of Gavin Gunning, Guy Demel and Florent Sinama Pongolle have played little football recently and will take time to gain full sharpness. Gunning, for instance, will still be aghast at the way he steered a header beyond his own goalkeeper for Hamilton's equaliser.

Struggling United
United have won just two of their 16 league matches this season.They have the worst defence in the league, having conceded 32 goals.
They are the lowest scorers in the league with just 12 goals.United have not scored more than one goal in a league match since 11 August

Paatelainen has been working relentlessly in training on establishing a shape and pattern of play. The switch to a back three has provided more control in midfield, but there remains a lack of resolve at the back that is undermining all of their work.

United can recover, but plenty of teams have found it difficult to haul themselves out of a prolonged slump.

The disillusionment with McNamara reached back into the poor run of form at the end of last season, but he only managed one win and one draw from his first seven games of this season.

It exacerbates United's plight that others around them are capable of scuttling away points.

Partick Thistle have found a surge of form, while Motherwell will be grateful for the point earned against Hearts. Only two points separate the teams in eighth to 11th in the Premiership and only seven points separate Hamilton in fifth and second-bottom Motherwell.

Stokes' act of frustration

Anthony Stokes is no stranger to making comments on Twitter that cause a furore. His latest comments, about not being in the Celtic side for the game in Inverness on Sunday, were borne out of frustration rather than malice.

He would have been better served voicing them in private, but the reality is that he has already been effectively estranged from the Celtic first-team. He is a player without an apparent future at the club, who were keen to sell him last summer.

Stokes has not played for Celtic since August
Stokes has not played for Celtic since August

He is not a lost cause, since an obvious level of talent remains. There has been baggage, too, though and a lack of consistency that has contributed to Celtic's view that he is no longer a first-choice player.

Yet social media can work to a player's advantage. Stokes has not learned his lessons on Twitter, but Leigh Griffiths is more aware of the nuances of the medium. Following last Thursday's loss to Ajax in the Europa League, the Celtic striker apologised to fans and said that he should be dropped.

That kind of honesty and sense of responsibility is endearing to fans. Griffiths is a reformed character, not least because he is fitter and more aware of the need to live the life of an athlete, while Stokes has become an outcast. They have also illustrated the risks and rewards of social media.

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