Almost 12 months to the day since they upset the Championship applecart by beating Hibs, part-time Dumbarton were at it again yesterday, Mark Docherty’s second-half penalty being enough to secure them all three points against an immensely disappointing Dundee United. As the Easter Road side discovered to their cost last season, dropping points in fixtures like this can make it mighty difficult to keep pace with your promotion rivals. One point out of six so far can at best be termed a stumbling start for Ray McKinnon’s men.
On the basis of their games to date United are showing signs of being a genuine enigma. They blew away Partick Thistle in the Betfred Cup in fine style, but blew hot and cold in their opening league game against Queen of the South. Yesterday, they didn’t even get beyond tepid.
“It’s a learning curve for the team, this a tough league and the guys need to adapt very quickly”, admitted McKinnon. “I thought the first 15-20 minutes were good, but after we didn’t get the breakthrough the tempo dropped to the level Dumbarton wanted to play it. It’s a new team getting put together and the standard of performance has been up and down. The players are learning, but they’ got to understand you don’t get anything for nothing in this league”.
What a result this was for the Sons though. Steven Aitken’s men have been on the ropes since virtually their first game of the season and the portents for them once again defying the odds by surviving in this fiercely competitive division were already looking ominous. Naturally Aitken was effusive in his praise for his side.
“I always said we look to put out a team that can compete, but we have our players in for three hours a week compared to full-time teams that have them in three to four hours a day. It’s a massive challenge for us,” he insisted. “We set the team up to frustrate Dundee United and even in the last 10 minutes when they were physically drained they were determined there was no way they were going to lose a goal.”
In the opening 45 minutes United feasted on possession without gaining much in the way of nourishment from it, looking busy around Alan Martin in the Dumbarton goal but rarely drawing him into making any saves. For home side, whose injury-afflicted rearguard has been leaking goals like they are going out of fashion, United’s lack of potency was a blessed relief. They grew into the game cautiously but in one of their sporadic forays upfield they carved for themselves the best chance of the first half with Gregor Buchanan hammering the ball just over the bar following a corner that the United defence were unable to clear properly. Most in the ground still expected the visitors to get the show on the road after half-time but in a shambolic quarter of an hour following the restart, they went a goal behind and could easily have been trailing by two or three. Ryan Stevenson smacked Cammy Bell’s crossbar with a thunderous free kick before Docherty calmly swept home a penalty awarded for a foul by Mark Durnan on Buchanan.
We waited for an onslaught from the visitors, but it was more like desperation than thoughtfully applied pressure. Substitute Simon Murray fluffed a great opening while Jamie Robson was as astonished as the rest of us when Martin clawed away his swerving volley. Some composed and wholehearted defending then enabled the Sons to hold on for a hugely important morale-boosting victory.