Sean Dillon scored a goal some compared to one of Lionel Messi’s specials to round off an unexpectedly emphatic victory.
No-one could deny the defender had applied the final touch since he toe-bashed the ball into the net after slaloming through the Kilmarnock defence.
However, the skipper later played down his contribution to an in-house truth session that seems to have gone some way towards re-igniting Dundee United’s season.
He stressed that it wasn’t just him doing the talking; others, too, had put in their penny’s worth, before presenting the findings to Mixu Paatelainen, who seems to have welcomed this show of initiative on the players’ part. Everyone was being careful to avoid labelling the episode, which occurred one day last week, as an “uprising” or a “coup”.
It was, Dillon insisted, a collaborative effort just like his goal, which was helped by a neat back-heel from Simon Murray and also Billy Mckay’s pressuring of an opponent. Dillon, however, was the driving force, just as you suspect he was last week when the players clearly thought: enough is enough.
“It’s fair to say we changed a couple of things, we mixed things up a little bit more,” said the skipper, and United’s longest-serving player. “Overall you could see little improvements everywhere and it paid off for us.
“We had a chat about things [earlier in the week] but you need to do that every now and again and air your opinions. The boys had their say. I don’t like categorising the younger boys, because it is not easy for them to feel comfortable about saying things. But everyone was able to get stuff off their chest which was good.
“It wasn’t a union meeting or anything like that,” he added. “We just had a chat. The gaffer and coaching staff deserve a lot of credit as well because they took what everyone said fairly well. It was quite open.
“It was just a couple of things we tweaked and thankfully it paid off.
“I’m not taking responsibility for the whole thing,” he continued. “I had my say and other guys were happy to talk as well. People might have their opinions on how long we left it. They might say you could have had a chat two months ago, six months ago. But it’s done now, we’ve had a chat.”
The outcome was that United, playing with two up front rather than just one, swatted Kilmarnock aside. The industrious Murray joined Mckay up front, with Ryan Dow in behind. Five personnel changes also helped lend the impression that this was a United team determined to shed skin that has recently proved so restrictive. They all contributed.
The celebration after Dillon’s strike was a team effort as well. Dillon was left flattened on the turf as nearly every one of his teammates piled on top of him in the goalmouth after he made it 5-0, after goals from Blair Spittal (two), substitute Mark Durnan and John Rankin had given the home side a four-goal lead at half-time. A late header from Josh Magennis, which offered barely a suggestion of consolation to the visitors, could not darken United’s day.
Jackie McNamara predicted earlier this season that United were due to give someone a thrashing. It’s been belated to the extent that McNamara himself was sacked in the interim. But a set of opponents have finally felt the lash of United’s pent-up frustration.
The hosts endured early setbacks after first-half injuries to Guy Demel and Coll Donaldson, which saw both removed from the action.
There were other casualties in the ground as well. This was one in the eye for those who arrived at Tannadice with the intention of burying United. Instead, they left having to praise them, switching their scrutiny towards Kilmarnock manager Gary Locke, whose team were back to their most abject worst.
Still, the 11-point gap between 12th and 11th place is what it was after United’s defeat to Celtic two Fridays ago, and no-one was saying then that they had turned the corner. But the manner of Saturday’s win means there is something to cling to prior to a series of league games that really will define United’s season: Partick Thistle, Hamilton, Motherwell.
Some calculated that defeat to Kilmarnock would signal the end of United’s hopes of staying up. Not because another loss would render it mathematically impossible to survive in the top flight – it is still only January after all. But it would, they figured, deal a fatal blow for team morale.
Hence the cup-final qualities of an occasion even the official match programme was describing as the “big one”, before adding: “defeat is unthinkable”.
While not prepared to make such a dramatic claim, Paatelainen, in the same publication, conceded the game was “massive”.
With so much at stake, was it surprising Dillon and his teammates decided to gather and dole out some hard truths? It might not have been a coup, but such extreme action was certainly overdue. Whether it really has succeeded in altering the course of United’s season remains to be seen.