IT SPEAKS volumes for this game that the noisiest the meagre home crowd got was when they booed their disapproval on the final whistle.
Scorers: Dundee Utd - Mackay-Steven 52 ; Ross County - Brittain 82
The Dundee United fans had a point because their team had more than enough chances to break their 11-match streak without a home win yet lacked the composure or quality to put away a Ross County side that was there for the taking, conceding a goal eight minutes from time when they should have been cruising to a much-needed victory. At this rate Peter Houston will be lucky to last until May.
“We were well in control and dominated this match – I was disappointed we didn’t take all three points, but I can’t fault the players,” said Houston, pictured inset, afterwards. “As for me, I’m contracted until May and I expect to be here until then, but that’s not my decision. We’ve got a cup tie coming up [against Rangers on Saturday] and we’re pushing for the top four – which would get us into Europe – and I’m hoping to make it four seasons out of four in the top six. That’s a pretty decent legacy when you look at where this club was when I came here six years ago.”
If Houston’s side squandered the chance to move to fifth in the table, Ross County were delighted with a point which puts them above St Mirren on goal difference and 12 points ahead of bottom team Dundee. Although it was difficult to agree with manager Derek Adams’ assertion that “we dominated the first half until Dundee United scored against the run of play, and deserved the point”, he was certainly right to say that “Dundee United are a big club and ought to be doing better than they are”.
This was a game which never really took off. Neither keeper had to make a save in a first half which dulled the senses and made an afternoon of root canal treatment seem like an inviting prospect. Those half-chances which did occur all came to Dundee United, with Stuart Armstrong at the centre of almost everything good that came from the home side.
Despite ballooning the ball over the bar early on, his main role was as provider, delivering the cross which Jon Daly headed into the side-netting in the opening minutes. He then skinned the otherwise impressive Greek debutant Evangelos Ikowomou to set up Gary Mackay-Steven on the edge of the box, only for his goalbound shot to be well blocked by Scott Boyd. The best opportunity of the half also fell to Mackay-Steven, only for the
double-barrelled striker to misfire from the edge of the box when his driven shot was just wide shortly before half-time.
But it was less one-way traffic than gridlock, with the majority of play being in the central third of the pitch. Ross County’s priority in defence was containment, while in attack their default setting was the long ball to Ivan Sproule on the right.
The match was changed by a moment of rare quality from Mackay-Steven just after the break. When Johnny Russell picked up the ball on the byline just outside the Staggies’ box, he pulled it back to Mackay-Steven, who turned and, with very little backlift, curled a beautiful shot right into the top corner to atone for his first-half wastefulness.
Having not had a shot on target in the first half, Ross County almost hit back immediately when Sam Morrow put Sproule in behind his shadow Barry Douglas, the winger taking the ball first time only to see his low shot expertly tipped around the post by Radoslaw Ciernziak. Nor was that their last chance, with Mihael Kovacevic’s driven shot from outside the box forcing Cierzniak to save smartly moments later.
Yet despite those two chances in quick succession, at no point after the first goal did it ever look as if anyone but the home team would win this one. Indeed, United could have been two or three up, but their profligacy was summed up by a wild John Rankin swipe at the back post which saw the ball end up in Row Z.
That wastefulness came back to haunt them with eight minutes left. Once again, the ball was swept out to Sproule on the right wing, only this time he feinted to go to the touchline before cutting inside Douglas and laying the ball back to Richard Brittain. The midfielder was well outside the penalty area and there seemed to be no danger, and even as he shaped to shoot no one closed him down. It was a fundamental error, because the County player unleashed a shot that flew past Cierzniak into the corner of the net to stunned silence.
Dundee United: Cierzniak, Watson, Dillon, Douglas, Gunning, Flood, Russell, Rankin, Daly, Mackay-Steven and Armstrong. Subs: Banks, McLean, Ryan, Millar, Gardyne, Dow, Skacel.
Ross County: Brown, Kovacevic, Boyd, Munro, Ikonomou, Sproule, Lawson, Brittain, Vigurs, Quinn, Morrow. Subs: Fraser, Fitzpatrick, Tokely, Glen, Cooper, MacPhee, Ross.