Dundee United know it isn’t going to be easy to navigate the treacherous waters of the Championship in their quest for an immediate return from whence they came, but yesterday it looked for 45 minutes at least that they’d taken fright at the scale of the task.
Timid, cagey and ponderous, it was hardly a surprise that they found themselves in arrears to a Mark Millar goal at the break.
They turned it around by doing almost everything they hadn’t in that insipid first half, but had to settle for just a point. Recent history shows that a strong start is imperative for those chasing that solitary automatic promotion spot in this cut-throat league, so this should serve as a bit of lesson for the Tannadice side that they need to hit the ground running in every game – not just after the manager’s giving them a half-time hosing down.
“We probably should have won in the end,” observed United manager Ray McKinnon, “but it’s maybe a good point. You’ve got nearly 7,500 fans here, teams are going to be up for it and in the first half we didn’t match it. Credit to them for that and it’s perhaps a wake-up call for my team. When we upped the pace in the second half we got our just reward though.
The calm, unflustered manner in which Queens opened the game certainly underlined that they are an experienced side that knows what this division is all about. They’ve had to contend with Hearts, Rangers and Hibs in recent seasons, so it was unlikely that a trip to Tannadice was going to have them overly fazed.
United, by contrast, looked like a side still searching for their bearings in new surrounds in an acutely tentative opening 45 minutes. Going in goalless at the interval would have been a passable achievement for them in the circumstances. It was not to be, however, as Lyndon Dykes, who had shown flashes of strength and pace down the left, suddenly powered into their penalty box. His fierce shot was parried by Cammy Bell, but it fell kindly for Millar and he stroked the ball home to give Queens the lead.
A jolt of energy and a good deal more directness was required if United were going to get back into this game and they pretty much came up with the goods. Tope Obedayi showed some decent acceleration with a couple of penetrating runs which lifted the home crowd at long last.
It soon bore a tangible impact. The gangling Nick van der Velden picked up a long diagonal ball on the edge of the Queens’ six-yard box, gave it a little juggle and then buried it beyond Lee Robinson. Suddenly United had them under siege and Tope Obedayi so nearly delivered as he cracked in a shot which Robinson did well to flick on to his near post. Moments later the visitors’ keeper was clawing away another vicious effort from Cammy Smith.
This was now a very different test of Queens’ nerve and their defending was flaky at times. Van der Velden shredded them down the left flank and how Smith managed to screw the resulting cut-back wide of the target was just about unfathomable. The visitors somehow clung on though and Stephen Dobbie, who made a surprise return to the Dumfries club last week, almost turned the clock back with a classic piece of back-post poaching, his close range shot somehow deflected over the bar by Bell in what was the last genuine opening of the game.
“We’re not too disappointed,” reflected Queens manager Gavin Skelton. “We rode the storm a bit, but it was the old adage of a game of two halves – they were better in the second we were better in the first.”