Scottish Championship: Dundee Utd all but seal title, but why so little fanfare?

Venue: Excelsior Stadium, Airdrie Date: Friday, 26 April Kick-off: 19:45 BST
Coverage: Watch on the BBC Scotland channel and follow live text commentary on the BBC Sport website & app

Dundee United have all but sealed an immediate return to the Scottish Premiership as more than 10,000 fans watched them effectively clinch the second-tier title against Ayr United on Saturday.

Fans poured on to the park to embrace the champions elect at the full-time whistle.

Such love for their team hasn’t always been in the air this term, though.

United have already accumulated eight more points than their city rivals did in their title triumph last season – with two games left to play – but Tannadice hasn’t always seemed a happy place.

Three defeats in six games across February and March didn’t help, but those seem small blotches on an otherwise mighty impressive report card. So why has it not always felt that way?

Manager Jim Goodwin said ahead of the Ayr game that he isn’t looking for “too many pats on the back” as United are “where everybody would expect us to be”.

But, on closer inspection, they have got there in some style.

Dundee United? Or Real Madrid?

Championship veteran Ryan Stevenson compared United to Real Madrid on the Scottish Football Podcast.

And, although United do have a 100% competitive record against Barcelona, Stevenson was actually alluding to the ability of Carlo Ancelotti’s side to turn up at the key points of the season. Just like Goodwin’s lot.

Just when things started to get tickly in the Championship – with Raith Rovers just a point behind with a game in hand – United found an extra gear to upholster an already-impressive season of statistics and pull clear.

  • They’ve scored 12 goals in their last four games, two of which came in a win over their title rivals from Fife
  • Goodwin’s side conceded just once in that time – and their tally of 22 goals against is bettered only by runaway League 1 champions Falkirk in the SPFL
  • It puts them within sight of beating the best Championship mark in the past decade – 25 by Hibernian in 2016-17
  • United have scored 69 goals – a tally only bettered in recent times by Rangers in 2015-16
  • Outside the Old Firm, only Falkirk have scored more this season
  • Attacking quartet Louis Moult, Tony Watt, Kai Fotheringham and Glenn Middleton have 44 league goals between them – more than six other teams have managed in total
  • United have won a club-record 12 away games this season

That Rovers managed to keep pace for so long is testament to the fine season enjoyed by Ian Murray’s side.

Perhaps the inability to shake off the Fifers has played its part in the anxiety that has clouded United for much of the term. So, too, have disappointing cup exits to League 1 sides.

Two defeats in their direct meetings with their title rivals and another abject reverse in Fife against Dunfermline Athletic last month allowed Rovers to keep in touch. As did a home humbling by Airdrieonians around the same time.

However, Murray’s men were equally fragile in that time, culminating in the 2-0 defeat at Tannadice that gave United the impetus.

Rovers’ 1-0 win away to Inverness Caledonian Thistle on Friday meant United couldn’t officially secure the title the following day.

But, such is their superior goal difference, beating Ayr was realistically enough and, if a positive result is picked up at Excelsior Stadium on Friday in front of the BBC Scotland cameras, black and tangerine ribbons will hang from the trophy.

Goodwin’s overriding emotion was one of “relief”, but he did admit a red wine would be enjoyed, while striker Tony Watt was leading the celebrations with plans for a few beers.

However, United will want to go out with a bang in their final two games. The run of four consecutive wins is their longest run in the league this season, while clean sheets against Airdrie and Partick Thistle on the final day would secure the best defensive record the division has witnessed since it increased to a 36-game campaign.

Nice numbers, but not necessities. What was a must was ensuring the big C would be beside their name come the end of the season. It isn’t yet, but it may as well be.

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