Dundee United 3-0 Dunfermline: Daly double drives United closer to Europe
AS THIS one entered its closing seconds, the public announcer cleared his throat to reveal the man of the match: “Jon Daly… and Gary Mackay-Steven,” he said rather sheepishly, although the failure to separate these two was understandable.
Daly scored two of the goals here, one a stylish effort from the edge of the box, to become the first United player since Kjell Olofsson in 1997 to claim 20 in a season. He is also the top scorer in the Scottish Premier League, with 17 goals, one more than Celtic’s Gary Hooper.
Neither of yesterday’s goals was scored with his head, which is just as well for he had six stitches inserted in a wound sustained at Easter Road seven days earlier. “He is unbelievable,” said Peter Houston, his manager. “At the start of the season, [David] Goodwillie goes and you wonder who will score the goals, and now he is the top scorer in the SPL. Great credit to him. The big man is my captain. He works hard. His first goal was quality.”
Valuable though Daly is to United, Mackay-Steven is a bigger asset, as he demonstrated here. The young winger is stunningly quick and full of imagination. After he combined both of those qualities to set up United’s second, the fans were asking again if he was Messi in disguise.
Ten minutes were left when he followed a blink-and-you-miss-it trick with an explosive burst of pace that left two Dunfermline defenders for dead. He cut the ball back to Scott Robertson, who advanced unmarked to send a first-time shot sweetly past the goalkeeper.
By setting up the goal that put the game beyond Dunfermline, Mackay-Steven played a significant role in United’s sixth consecutive league win, which elevates them to fourth place, five points behind Motherwell.
“He is a fantastic player,” said Daly. “He has that in his locker. You see it every day in training, bits of magic like that. He is the type of player who can change a game with a bit of brilliance.”
It was another painful day for Dunfermline, who had been stubborn enough, particularly during a dour first half in which they more or less contained their hosts. Only when they conceded the second goal did they lose heart, lapsing into the kind of defensive slackness that has plagued them all season. Still three points adrift at the bottom, they will be praying that Hibs do not win at Inverness this afternoon.
“No-one at Dunfermline can complain about the spirit, will and work-rate, but at times, the quality we need to keep people out isn’t there,” said Jim Jefferies, their recently-appointed manager. “That bit of quality needed in the final third isn’t there either. I can’t sort that in a fortnight or ten days.”
Apart from a shot pulled wide by Paul Dixon, after Chris Smith had inexplicably decided to punch away a harmless cross, United had little to show for their first-half endeavour. They had just a couple of notable efforts, thanks mainly to Mackay-Steven.
When he beat Andy Dowie wide on the left, his cross picked out Robbie Neilson in the box, but the full-back’s volley was too high. Then he jinked into space just outside the penalty area, there to hit a right-foot shot that Smith pushed away.
Dunfermline moved forward with more hope than expectation, although Joe Cardle looked capable of providing the necessary spark. He gave Neilson a few uncomfortable moments, before sending in a free kick that Alex Keddie headed over.
Dunfermline were entitled to be satisfied with their work in the first half, but within four minutes of the restart, they had fallen behind. Neilson’s long throw was not properly cleared, and when the bouncing ball broke to Daly on the edge of the penalty area, the striker cut at it with a kind of scissor kick. His plunging shot quickly nestled in the bottom right-hand corner.
As United pressed for a second, Mackay-Steven was involved in their best work. First, he had a shot saved by Smith. Then he released Dixon, whose cross from the left prompted from Johnny Russell a header that flashed by the front post.
Dunfermline showed willing by bringing on David Graham and Liam Buchanan for Jordan McMillan and Andy Kirk, but United always looked likelier to produce the game’s second goal. John Rankin curled a shot round the post, a handball claim was turned down in the box and Russell had a cross deflected wide before two goals in the space of four minutes settled the outcome.
After Mackay-Steven had set up the second, United got their third. Russell was the supplier, holding off his marker long enough to lay the ball off to Daly, who swept a left-foot shot in off the keeper’s hand.
MAN OF THE MATCH Jon Daly and Gary Mackay-Steven (Dundee United) Impressive opening goal changed the match.
TALKING POINT Gary Mackay-Steven’s trick and run that set up United’s second goal.
Referee: J Beaton. Attendance: 6,654
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