Why the Neilson effect makes Dundee United serious title contenders

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A bumpy start to the campaign saw Dundee United part company with Romanian boss Csaba Laszlo. That paved the way for the club to make an impressive swoop for Robbie Neilson, who took the job a week into October.

It’s still very early days in the Neilson era, but United have picked up seven points in three games under his stewardship – including an impressive 2-0 win at Dunfermline’s East End Park.

Now up to third in the Ladbrokes Championship, we take a look at why United are very much title contenders this term.

Tangerines looking stronger across the pitch

The most marked improvement so far has come defensively. The Tayside club had shipped 13 goals in their first eight league games (or 1.75 per game), but have now conceded just twice in three under Neilson.

The centre-back duo of Frederic Frans and Rachid Bouhenna have looked more combative and confident in recent weeks. And with Neilson sticking with Laszlo’s system of 4-2-3-1, they haven’t needed to adapt to a new formation overnight.

Up front, powerful Slovakian striker Pavol Safranko is finally getting the service he needs – and he’s responded superbly. The 23-year-old has now netted twice in three games, including a clinical close-range winner at Partick Thistle.

Neilson knows how to win this league

Heart of Midlothian suffered relegation from the top-flight in 2014, and few saw an easy path back to the Premiership for the Jam Tarts. But after appointing Neilson in pre-season, everything started to turn around.

In the end, the Gorgie club won the title by an astonishing 21-point margin, scoring 96 goals and leaving the likes of Hibernian and Rangers in the dust.

As he’s just beginning to at Tannadice, the charismatic 38-year-old transformed the mood at Tynecastle. As well as finding a free-flowing style which suited his side, the former Leicester City defender also recruited smartly in the job.

Savvy additions likely in January

Neilson basically revolutionised the Hearts side upon his arrival in 2014, and several of his signings played a major part in the Premiership even after the manager’s exit.

Captain Alim Ozturk was a revelation when he joined on a free from Trabzonspor, and went on to be one of the most important buys in the club’s recent history.

That was in addition to other signings like tricky left-back Adam Eckersley and the lively James Keatings up front.

With the January transfer window just two months away, Neilson will soon have a chance to tweak the United ranks.

And with fellow title challengers like Ayr United having more modest resources in the transfer market, the coming window could be the clincher in this title tussle.

The odds

Next up for the Tangerines is Saturday’s home clash with Queen of the South. United are 19/20 to beat the Dumfries outfit, while a repeat of their 2-1 triumph in the last meeting is 15/2.

As for a league title come May, Neilson and co. are 7/1 to go up as Championship winners.

Click here for the latest Ladbrokes Championship odds.

All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing

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