Micky Mellon may have to revert back to old tactics to revive Dundee United's attack

It hasn’t been a good week for Dundee United fans. Just a few days ago the club announced that they had begun talks with their players and staff over wage deferrals or cuts, with owner Mark Ogren going as far as to call for financial support from the Scottish government.

As if that wasn’t worrying enough, Micky Mellon’s side welcome Ross County to Tannadice later today in a match that both sides will be desperately hoping to win.

Yet the problem for Mellon’s side is that they’re not very good at scoring goals right now. In fact, the Tannadice side are the third worst in the division when it comes to putting the ball in the back of the net, with the aforementioned Highland side and St Mirren sitting just below them.

So why are United so bad at scoring goals this season? The problem comes from the lack of creativity in Mellno’s side. The entire country is well aware of how good Lawrence Shankland is when he’s offered the right opportunities, but the problem seems to be that the ball simply isn’t getting to the Scotland international like it did last season.

For example, in last season’s Scottish Championship Shankland averaged 5.14 touches of the ball in the opponent’s penalty box each game. In this season’s Scottish Premiership, that average has dropped significantly to 2.49 touches per game. Which may explain why the 25-year-old striker has only scored two goals.

When we take a step back and look at United’s overall stats this season compared to last we see a similar issue. The average amount of crosses United hit per game has dropped from 20.1 to 14.8, the average amount of penalty box entries (when a player passes or dribbles into the area) has dropped from 30 to 21 per game and the amount of touches United average in the opposition box per match has almost halved from 20.6 to 11.5 per game.

Part of this is perhaps down to the fact that the Tannadice side have been promoted to a tougher league but there are also some notable shifts in tactics and personnel which will surely be playing its part as well.

So far this season Mellon has stuck by new signing Luke Bolton as his go-to right wing-back in his 3-5-2 formation and for the most part it just hasn’t worked. Although the 21-year old looked promising at the start of the league campaign with an assist against Motherwell, he’s struggled to offer the kind of output that United’s wide players provided last season in abundance.

For example, when we compare Bolton’s creative stats to Paul McMullan’s from last season we can quickly see where the lack of service for Shankland is coming from. While Bolton is averaging 2.88 crosses per game with a 33% accuracy in the Premiership this season, McMullan averaged 5.22 per game with a 38% accuracy in last season’s Championship.

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Similarly, McMullan averaged 2.41 shot assists per game to Bolton’s 0.67 this season, 5.58 passes to the penalty area per game to Bolton’s 2.21 and an assists average of 0.46 per match to Bolton’s 0.1. Or, in other words, McMullan averaged an assist roughly every two games last season and Bolton is averaging just one every 10 games this time around.

Not only does McMullan look good compared to Bolton’s personal stats, but he was also a notable stand-out among the entire United squad when you consider their stats from last season.

The winger finished last season’s Championship campaign top among his team mates for assists, key passes and deep completion passes and directly set up seven of Shankland’s 24 goals. Which makes it all the more puzzling when we consider that after returning from a groin injury at the start of the season, McMullan has had just two late substitute appearances from eight available Premiership games to date, as well as two starts in the Scottish League Cup.

Considering how important Shankland’s goals are to United’s success on the pitch and the fact that over one third of his tally from last season came from the striker knocking the ball into the back of the net with his head, it then seems rather reckless for Mellon to come in and drop one of the club’s most accomplished wingers and a player that Shankland clearly has necessary chemistry with on the pitch.

United aren’t really in trouble. Yet. But unless they can find a way to consistently create chances for Shankland to stick in the back of the net, the grumbles around Mellon’s tactics and team selections will only grow louder. Eventually the new manager may have to revert back to old tactics to score some goals.

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