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Tangerine dream - Levein can inspire United

Can Dundee United capture third place in the SPL this season? Can Craig Levein get his team going from day one? Those are two questions the Tannadice faithful will be asking ahead of Monday night's game against Hearts. The early signs are good for Craig Levein, his side finished their pre-season schedule on a high-note with a 2-0 win over English Premier League side Blackburn, but try telling the United boss it means anything. A year ago the Terrors completed a similarly impressive pre-season, only to start the SPL in dismal fashion.

A 3-1 defeat to new boys Hamilton silenced the summer enthusiasts on the opening weekend a year ago, and that result was also the beginning of a 5 game run without a win in the league. On September 13th last year Dundee United were rock bottom. Surely that can't happen again, right? Right.

This season United have added some much needed experience to their squad. OK, so they lost a big part of the jigsaw puzzle in keeper Lukasz Zaluska to Celtic, but in come Steve Banks from Hearts and Nicky Weaver from Charlton to cover until Dusan Pernis arrives in January. In attack Danny Cadamarteri should help an injury-struck frontline, and in defence Andy Webster could prove to be a key signing - if he can stay fit.

The fixtures have also been kind to the Tannadice club, who incidentally have history on their side - they celebrate their 100th anniversary this year. If they can get a win against Hearts, they will go into the SPL games against St Mirren and Falkirk with great confidence. Levein has however been quick to remind us of late that Hearts have a much higher payroll than United, but the stability of his side should more than make up for it.

The United manager has a solid squad, which can score goals. David Goodwillie may be called upon to lead the line on Monday, but he will also look to Cadamarteri for support. Once Francisco Sandaza, Jon Daly and new boy Damian Casalinuovo (who looked impressive in recent weeks before injuring his shoulder) return to full fitness, United will have plenty of options.

They also have a strong spine behind that - in defence Darren Dods and Lee Wilkie are a big uncompromising pairing, and that's not to mention Andy Webster. The former Hearts and Rangers centre-half will be influential if he can overcome a persistent knee problems. Then in midfield the dynamic pairing of Morgaro Gomis and Prince Bauben is outstanding. Gomis in particular has attracted a lot of attention in recent years - and he has, in my opinion, established himself as one of the best midfielders in the SPL.

That said, can a team who finished 5th two years in a row really make the jump to 3rd? Without question.

Hearts are strong, and some of their players are still talking about splitting the Old Firm this season, but they have lost some key players - including their creative midfielder Bruno Aguiar. Yes, manager Csaba Laszlo has brought in 5 new players, but of them only former Inverness star Ian Black has SPL experience. Craig Levein in comparison has bought British, and that may be the difference on Monday, and the rest of the season. While players like Jesus Manuel Santana Abreu (known as 'Suso') will excite Hearts fans, you wonder how they will react to the ice-cold winter months.

It certainly is looking good for Dundee United this season - and I wouldn't be surprised at all to find them in 3rd next May. But first, let's see how Monday night turns out. That will certainly give us a better idea of what's in store for the season ahead.

Scottish native Darrell will be reporting for ESPN's new UK TV channel throughout the season on both the Barclays Premier League and the SPL.


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