Games have become a source of consternation for Peter Houston.
The Dundee United manager has now watched his side concede the opening goal in six of their last seven matches, and the setbacks have not always been overcome. His team is capable of responding, but the hesitant start has become routine and United have yet to find a solution. "It's the story of our season," said Barry Douglas.
The full-back was talking after Tuesday's 2-1 defeat by Motherwell at Tannadice. The hosts fell two goals behind in the opening 10 minutes, and the frustration was evident. It has become familiar, but analysing games and trying to address the issue in training has failed to deliver a solution. "I don't know why it's happening, but we need to try to rectify it," said Douglas. "I wouldn't say it's a mental problem, we were just slow coming out of the blocks, for whatever reason. And I wouldn't say it's anything to do with the team selection, because regardless of what team plays, it happens all the time. We just need to get together as a unit and get to the bottom of it."
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Douglas concedes a team meeting "is maybe the solution", but against Motherwell the initial vulnerability seemed self-inflicted. United played four in midfield with John Rankin on the left, but he tucked infield, leaving Douglas exposed at left-back, where he faced the pace and direct running of Chris Humphrey. The winger created the opening goal with a cross, then scored the second himself after Henrik Ojamaa played him through.
United's display was perplexing, but the team eventually responded and at least dominated possession after the interval, albeit without laying siege to the Motherwell goal. That much irks Houston, since he knows his team are capable of beating most sides in the Clydesdale Bank Premier League. "I wouldn't say it will ruin our season, but we're giving ourselves too much of an uphill task, giving goals away," said Douglas. "It seems to be that when we go behind, that's when we start playing. If you look at the last four or five games, on the second-half performances we deserved to win them, but the slow starts are costing us."
The dissatisfaction, however, was not restricted to the losers. Even after his stunning goal – a fierce drive from 25 yards that angled past Radoslaw Cierzniak – Humphrey was moved to bemoan his lack of goals, that being his first of the campaign.
The Englishman only scored twice in 40 appearances last season, but his pace is enough to carry him beyond most defences. There are fewer scoring opportunities on the wing, but the way Humphrey finished at Tannadice suggests that there may be more to his game than swiftness. Even so, he described his approach as being, "I've just got to hit this" when the ball arrived at his feet. "That was the best I've ever scored," Humphrey said. "I should be chipping in with more. It was good to get off the mark and hopefully I can get a few more."
The Motherwell players were appreciative, not least because the table is so tight. Points have become even more precious and the squad discussed the importance of their win in the dressing room afterwards. Reflection tends to be rare in such moments but there were elements of the game worth considering. As well as Humphrey's goal, Motherwell were also well served by Henrik Ojamaa's tireless workrate up front. "Defences are scared of him, his pace and his power," said Humphrey of his team-mate. "When he's on his game it's always a big plus for us."