No football team has a given right to challenge for honours or constantly compete to be in the top tier. It has to be earned. For Scottish footballing traditionalists though, it’s painful to see Dundee United preparing to enter another season in Scotland’s second tier.

Particularly after their penalty shootout loss to St Mirren in which they didn’t convert a single spot kick.

When you think of the biggest clubs outside the Old Firm, the capital clubs and Aberdeen tend to come to mind. United certainly would’ve and still should enter your thoughts. The fans have been suffering for too long, but hopefully it won’t be for much longer.

Neilson’s no numpty

Fans may be quick to point their fingers at Robbie Neilson. But harshly, it has to be said. After inheriting the reigns from Csaba Laszlo’s disaster, there’s not many candidates the Tangerines would have taken as opposed to their former right back.

The Buddies got the better of Robbie Neilson’s Arabs on spot kicks. (Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images)

He’s a winner in this division before, leading Hearts to a record points total in the Championship (91). Up against city rivals Hibs and Rangers, his task was trickier reputation-wise then than now.

However, tricky fixtures may await in the Dundee derbies and games where you perhaps wouldn’t expect like Arbroath and Alloa. As has been proven in meetings with the Wasps this season.

The squad

Neilson’s Hearts team had incredible fitness levels by the time the 2014-15 season began. With a full, and what will certainly be a tricky, pre-season there’s no reason why he can’t get the best of the current squad.

Benjamin Siegrist is developing all the time between the sticks. A centre back pairing of Reynolds and Connolly has bags of experience that should see them promoted.

The Swiss shotstopper looks a safe pair of hands. (photo by David Young/Action Plus via Getty Images)

Liam Smith’s been a standout for Ayr United and Neilson knows him from his Tynecastle tenure. If the Lee Wallace rumours are true, that back four looks strong for the second tier.

Wallace would also be a great tutor for young Jamie Robson, a promising talent. In midfield and attack they have players who can create and score goals. Ian Harkes, Peter Pawlett and Paul McMullan, in recent weeks, look real talents to get United out the Championship.

Nicky Clark scored from the spot during the Ladbrokes Scottish Premiership Play-off Final second leg as his teammates eventually lost 2-0 on penalties. (Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images)

So it’s not all doom and gloom as far as the squad goes, even if they can keep a hold of Šafranko or not. Nicky Clark has grabbed goals at this level before and if Neilson can get the best from him and Osman Sow again, big money is a guarantee. He’s recruited fairly well so far, hopefully that’ll continue for the Arabs’ sake.

Don’t repeat the feat

However, if United are to get promoted, they have to avoid the playoffs at all costs. You need only ask Rangers and Hibs fans the importance of doing that in recent seasons having suffered themselves.

Automatic promotion is the best way to do it. Csaba Laszlo couldn’t deliver but under Neilson, and with that squad, they have every chance of doing so next term.

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