Dundee Utd in talks with Jack Ross after exit of Hungary-bound head coach Tam Courts

Jack Ross is nearing a return to Scottish Premiership management with Dundee United after his sacking by Hibs last season
Jack Ross is nearing a return to Scottish Premiership management with Dundee United after his sacking by Hibs last season

Jack Ross is in advanced talks with Dundee United about succeeding Tam Courts as head coach.

An agreement is expected in the next 48 hours, with former Hibernian, Sunderland and St Mirren boss Ross the “preferred candidate” United referenced when Courts left on Tuesday.

Courts, meanwhile, is close to being appointed head coach of Hungarian club Budapest Honved.

The 40-year-old spent a season in charge at Tannadice.

Having guided United to fourth in the Scottish Premiership and a Europa Conference League spot – the club’s first European football in 10 years – Courts departed by “mutual consent” to pursue other opportunities.

He had been given permission to hold talks with Croatian club Rijeka last week but is now set for Honved.

  • Courts leaves Dundee Utd by mutual consent

Ross with point to prove after Hibs sacking?

United sporting director Tony Asghar said on Tuesday the club hoped to make a swift appointment. A few issues remain to be ironed out with Ross, 46, but those are not expected to be deal breakers and he is poised to return to Premiership management six months on from his sacking by Hibs.

Ross’ track record, and the fact he is currently out of work, made him the obvious choice.

Many viewed his Hibs dismissal as harsh, having led the club to third place in his first full campaign – 2020-21 – as well as Scottish Cup and League Cup finals. However, owner Ron Gordon opted to sack him after two wins in 10 games with Hibs sitting seventh.

The fact they ended up finishing eighth only strengthens Ross’ case that it was a mistake to get rid of him and his work getting St Mirren promoted and Sunderland to a play-off final are also evidence of his abilities. Even if not everyone at Hibs was a fan of the style of play.

He will need to subscribe to United’s youth policy and a quick appointment will be key for the club with pre-season just around the corner.

Given the upheaval of recent summers – United are searching for a new manager in June for the third consecutive season – they will hope for some continuity too, although at least Courts’ departure is a mark of the club’s recent success rather than failure.

From fan ire to European football for Courts

When Courts’ name first appeared in the frame for the United job, he wasn’t exactly welcomed with open arms. Indeed, The Federation of Dundee United Supporters’ Clubs wrote to the Tannadice board to reflect concerns among the fanbase about his lack of experience and the process leading to his eventual appointment.

At the time, Courts had only managed Kelty Hearts in the Lowland League and was working as United’s head of tactical development. It was a bold move from the club.

Unbowed by the scepticism, Courts ended Rangers’ 40-game unbeaten league run in just the second match of the season and led his team to six wins, three draws and just two defeats in the opening 11 fixtures.

What was clear immediately was Courts’ ability to organise a team to be difficult to beat as United kept six clean sheets in that 11-game run. Over the whole season, they ended with the fourth-best tally for goals conceded and, of the 14 games they lost, only five were by more than one goal.

Another impressive facet of Courts’ work is the fact it was done while sticking to United’s core aim of using and developing young talent. He gave 16 academy players game time and the likes of Ross Graham and Kieran Freeman played more than 15 matches, even if Freeman, 22, and loanee Dylan Levitt, 21, were the only players aged 22 or under to make more than 20 appearances.

His ability to mould United into a disciplined side earned them fourth place and European football, a fantastic return in his debut season as a full-time head coach and his positive attitude was clearly welcomed by players.

However, Courts did have his doubters. United ended the campaign with only four more points than they gathered under Micky Mellon the previous campaign, when they finished ninth.

They also struggled for goals, with only bottom two Dundee and St Johnstone, plus ninth-place St Mirren, scoring fewer. Even with the addition of Tony Watt from Motherwell in January – then the league’s top scorer – they were often stilted in attack, registering the second fewest shots on target in the Premiership.

Courts’ side won only five of their 17 games in the second half of the season and some would argue he was the beneficiary of a poor quality league in which nearly every team struggled.

Still, his work improving United has clearly been noted beyond Scotland and a move to Hungary’s top flight now beckons.

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