Dundee United v Dundee: Can anyone deny Robbie Neilson's side the title?

Dundee United have won both derbies this season, the last 2-0 at Dens in November
Dundee United have won both derbies this season, the last 2-0 at Dens in November
Scottish Championship: Dundee Utd v Dundee
Venue: Tannadice Park, Dundee Date: Friday, 27 December Kick-off: 19:45 GMT
Coverage: Listen on BBC Radio Scotland and follow live commentary on the BBC Sport Scotland website and app

Three seasons ago - just like this term - Dundee United spent Christmas atop the Scottish Championship. But that is where the similarities end.

While a two-point lead over Hibernian in December 2016 became an eight-point deficit a month later, this time United are 13 clear. A four-season exile from the top flight looks like it might finally be over.

A spurt of four wins set the pace, but the manner in which Robbie Neilson's side have accelerated in the second quarter has been relentless. Nine games, nine wins. Twenty goals scored, just two conceded.

Is the halfway point of the campaign too early to suggest the title is already effectively won?

What does history say?

A tally of 71 points has won the Championship title in two of the last three seasons. St Mirren reached 74 in the third of those campaigns.

United already have 43 points - an average of 2.39 per game - so need just 28 from their remaining 18 fixtures to match Ross County's mark from last term and Hibs' haul from 2016/17. That means even stumbling to 1.56 points per game from here on may well be sufficient.

As a point of comparison, nearest challengers Inverness Caledonian Thistle would need to win 13 of their final 18 to reach the 71-point mark.

Furthermore, United's total at this stage has not been bettered in the four seasons in which they have been part of the second tier. The Tannadice club's 38 points at this juncture three seasons ago has not been surpassed in that time.

How does the competition compare?

Table

In 2016, United were two points clear of a Hibs side boasting the likes of John McGinn, Jason Cummings, Dylan McGeouch and Kris Commons. A team that were Scottish Cup holders.

By the end of January, Ray McKinnon's men were eight adrift and never looked capable of recovering. This time, the opposition appears to be less daunting.

Second-placed Caley Thistle have been swept aside twice - 4-1 and 3-1 - by United and have averaged 1.78 points a game. Ayr United are a further four points back, having won just three of their last 11 and just once since 2 November, as are purported title rivals Dundee as they look to bounce back from relegation.

Of those three sides, only Ayr have taken any points off United across six games this term.

Are United stronger this season?

Graphic

Indisputably. The signings of 11 players in January and a further four in the summer has left Neilson's squad unrecognisable from the one that was four off the pace last Christmas. That gap then became seven points by new year after an abject defeat away to Alloa Athletic.

And, while defeat at the Indodrill Stadium has also been a stain on this season, that reverse in September was just one of three games in which United have dropped points in the entire league campaign.

A thumping win over Ayr on Saturday - albeit after a testing first half - was a ninth win in nine home games to start the campaign. The last time the Tannadice side did that was 51 years ago.

"I'm delighted with the players and what they've been doing," Neilson told BBC Scotland at the weekend. "Externally, everyone is saying were doing this and that, but internally we need to keep fighting and making sure we get results.

"If we're going to get out of this league, we need to have standards and we need to do it every day as well as every game."

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