Dundee United boosted their Ladbrokes Premiership survival hopes with a 1-0 win at St Johnstone in which they played with 10 men for the final half-hour.
Maybe it’s right to feel nervous now if you’re a Kilmarnock supporter. It’s not just that Dundee United have closed the gap on the Ayrshire side at the bottom of the Premiership to just five points with a game in hand. It’s a lot more than that. Yesterday Mixu Paatelainen’s men looked as though they genuinely believed they could survive, dominating the first half and then preserving a half–time advantage gained through a Ryan Dow goal despite being reduced to ten men after defender Coll Donaldson was sent off soon after the re-start.
Whereas in the early part of the season United could be almost guaranteed to squander a lead, here they were utterly convincing in their efforts to defend it. All this against a side who have been accorded near nemesis status in recent seasons, with that painful 2014 Scottish Cup final experience and Jackie McNamara’s departure as manager earlier this campaign both arising from reverses at the hands of their rivals from up the Tay. It can only add to what has been that rarest of sensations around Tannadice – the feelgood factor.
“The boys were fantastic,” said a delighted Paatelainen. “The first-half performance was excellent and we really dug in after going a man down. The way they organised themselves and pressed higher up the park was tremendous”.
Pressed on whether he felt the momentum was now in his side’s favour in the battle to avoid the automatic relegation spot, the United manager was keen that no one gets too far ahead of themselves. “Today we won and picked up three points – great, we want more days like that. But we realise Kilmarnock will pick points as well. We just need to look after ourselves..”
It might have been a couple of weeks since that stirring Dundee derby comeback but the manner in which Paatelainen’s men started this game suggested adrenalin was still coursing through their veins and they should have been in front even before Dow’s scruffy goal after 22 minutes.
Such is a goalkeeper’s lot that he can make a couple of brilliant stops but can still be cast as a clump and that was the fate of Saints’ Alan Mannus. His reactions were exemplary to block a point blank header from Donaldson and then a fierce shot from Henri Anier. However, when Dow sent a close-range cushioned shot goalwards it looked tame, yet somehow it crept under the Northern Irishman’s body and over the line. Not a great deal was required of St Johnstone to improve upon what was a poor opening 45 minutes but they stepped up several gears after the break. With new-found intent they pressed the visitors back towards their own 18 yards line albeit without creating much in the way of clear-cut chances. Then Joe Shaughnessy played a ball over the top, Chris Kane and Donaldson tangled and referee Willie Collum adjudged the United man had denied a goal-scoring opportunity and showed him the red card.
Minutes later Murray Davidson thumped one off the bar for the Perth side, but the visitors showed tremendous resolve and discipline to batten down the hatches.
“We lost the game in the first 20-30 minutes,” said St Johnstone manager Tommy Wright. “We were much better after that, but it was disappointing that after they went down to 10 men we stopped passing the ball.”
St Johnstone 0
Dundee United 1