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United began the season 2016/17 with a new manager, but a familiar face to Arabs. Ray McKinnon played over 100 games over two spells for United between 1988-92 and later between 1995-98. Having guided Raith Rovers to the previous season’s Championship play-offs, McKinnon was given the task of overseeing United’s promotion challenge.
As is common in teams that are relegated, United’s playing squad was drastically cut as a total of 30 players left Tannadice and 11 arriving. Experienced players such as John Rankin, Paul Paton and Eiji Kawashima left the Club, whilst McKinnon brought in Willo Flood, for the fourth time, Tony Andreu, William Edjenguele and Cammy Bell amongst others.
The Scottish Championship had become one of the most difficult leagues to get out of in recent years with the likes of Rangers, Hearts and Hibernian all vying for that one elusive automatic promotion place. This season would see previous Premiership teams Hibernian and United start the campaign as favourites. As expected, it took United time to settle into this new league. Their form was inconsistent with a variety of wins, losses and draws.
One highlight was a 3-1 win against Dunfermline Athletic at East End Park which will be remembered for goalkeeper Cammy Bell’s three penalty saves. By October they were vying for the top spot after 5 successive victories. Christmas Eve saw United fans leaving Tannadice with their side in first place in the Championship after a 2-1 victory over St Mirren.
In the Scottish Cup, United had an early exit after a disappointing 6-2 defeat away to Ross County in January. The League Cup proved more favourable as the new league format saw United qualify with 4 out of 4 victories from Group C. A second round 3-1 home victory against Partick Thistle set up a quarter-final against Championship rivals Greenock Morton. A hard fought encounter saw the Greenock side win 2-1 against United.
United did lift silverware this season as they won the Scottish Challenge Cup. Earlier round wins against Peterhead, Stranraer, Dunfermline Athletic and Queen of the South set up a final against St Mirren.
Played at Fir Park, United won 2-1 thanks to goals from Tony Andreu and Thomas Mikkelsen.
In the Championship, United would finally finish 3rd as Hibernian took the title. The Tannadice side would have to take the hard route of the Play-Offs. United beat Morton 2-1 away and then 3-0 at home in the 3rd/4th place play-off. This set up a semi-final play-off against second placed Falkirk.
A 2-2 draw at Tannadice gave the Bairns the advantage, but United rallied in the 2nd leg to earn a valuable 2-1 victory. United now faced Hamilton Academical in the Play-Off final. The Accies had finished second bottom of the Premiership. A hard fought 0-0 draw at Tannadice was followed up by a 1-0 victory to Hamilton in the second leg. It had been a long season for the Tannadice side, and it had come down to missing out on promotion by just 1 goal.