Dundee Utd 2-0 St Johnstone: Tangerines stay top

Paul Paton celebrates after netting against St Johnstone. Picture: SNS
Paul Paton celebrates after netting against St Johnstone. Picture: SNS
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THE BUILD-UP to this game might have been dominated by talk of Dundee United erasing the pain of their Scottish Cup final defeat by St Johnstone last May and prevailing by the same two-goal margin by which they lost against their Tayside rivals on that showpiece occasion.

Dundee United2

Erskine 23; Paton 72

St Johnstone0

It could be said that it was a case of mission accomplished. In reality, however, this amounted to a whole lot more for Jackie McNamara’s men, like maintaining their fine start to the season and proudly retaining their place at the top of the Premiership table.

The game may not have been a thing of beauty, but two well-taken goals in either half by Chris Erskine and Paul Paton for the Tannadice side – both very much down to the craft and vision of Nadir Ciftci – were enough to earn a deserved three points and round off a great week for them after their derby successes against Dundee.

“Being top of the league is the most important thing. The performance could have been better, but it’s been hard, three games in six days”, insisted McNamara, who quickly dismissed any notions of this result being a measure of revenge against the Perth side. “If it had been another cup final, then maybe, but it was three points we were playing for and we’ve still got to play them three times. My focus was on a victory today regardless”

Yet it was not only the neat reverse symmetry of the scoreline that must have at least helped the United supporters banishing those cup final demons. The manner in which they took the lead yesterday surely brought a satisfying twist for them too. At Celtic Park, Saints had capitalised on Radoslaw Cierzniak misjudging the flight of a David Wotherspoon corner, allowing Steven Anderson to head the ball into an unguarded net. After 23 minutes of this game the Polish goalkeeper again found himself facing a Wotherspoon set piece, but this time he plucked the ball out of the air with supreme confidence. Better still, he then launched an attack in which Ciftci ran with the ball for nearly 50 yards, turned Brian Easton inside out and then released Erskine to guide a low shot past Alan Mannus.

The pace and clinical precision of this attack neatly summed up why the home side enjoyed the upper hand in a tightly, sometimes fiercely, contested affair. Saints, who started with Murray Davidson playing a holding role in front of their back four and Michael O’Halloran cast as a lone striker, sought to compress the midfield and stifle the creative probings of Ryan Dow and John Rankin as well as Erskine. They were successful in part, but too often careless in possession and prone to the counter-attack.

Ciftci, who endured a frustrating afternoon at the hands of the 
visitors’ Fraser Wright in the cup final, must have particularly enjoyed the torment he was inflicting on his opponents this time around. 
His vision and comfort on the ball marked him out as the fulcrum of the United front line and he could have also scored the opening goal of the game with a venomous drive after ten minutes that took a deflection and which Mannus did well to smother. “You saw his strength and ability today – but his workrate was excellent too,” observed McNamara.

As well as such sublime touches by the Turkish striker there is rarely a 90 minutes when he is not involved in some form of feisty exchange and yesterday Anderson stoked his ire with some meaty challenges.

Ciftci made sure that the Saints man knew he wasn’t for shirking it by following through on a tackle and earned a near customary yellow card.

His main threat to the Perth side, however, remained his ability to find space and thread together incisive moves towards Mannus’s goal.

United’s second was scored by Paton, but it was really Ciftci that struck again, winning the ball from Davidson and feeding Keith Watson, who sent over a low cross that was delightfully deflected into the net via the upright by the midfielder.

Even with a tactical shake-up after the break with Simon Lappin and Adam Morgan introduced to give them more forward momentum, Saints only conjured up one genuine opportunity in the entire 90 minutes, O’Halloran pouncing on Callum Morris’s miscue and sending a shot crashing off the post.

Their manager, Tommy Wright, professed himself disappointed with the manner in which they had conceded both goals. “Individual errors are being punished at the moment,” he said. “We could quite easily have come away with a nil-nil, but we’ve contributed to our own downfall. I do need another striker in and I’ve got one coming on trial next week.”The build-up to this game might have been dominated by talk of Dundee United erasing the pain of their Scottish Cup final defeat by St Johnstone last May and prevailing by the same two-goal margin by which they lost against their Tayside rivals on that showpiece occasion. It could be said that it was a case of mission accomplished. In reality, however, this amounted to a whole lot more for Jackie McNamara’s men, like maintaining their fine start to the season and proudly retaining their place at the top of the Premiership table.

The game may not have been a thing of beauty, but two well-taken goals in either half by Chris Erskine and Paul Paton for the Tannadice side – both very much down to the craft and vision of Nadir Ciftci – were enough to earn a deserved three points and round off a great week for them after their derby successes against Dundee.

“Being top of the league is the most important thing. The performance could have been better, but it’s been hard, three games in six days”, insisted McNamara, who quickly dismissed any notions of this result being a measure of revenge against the Perth side. “If it had been another cup final, then maybe, but it was three points we were playing for and we’ve still got to play them three times. My focus was on a 
victory today regardless”

Yet it was not only the neat reverse symmetry of the scoreline that must have at least helped the United supporters banishing those cup final demons. The manner in which they took the lead yesterday surely brought a satisfying twist for them too. At Celtic Park, Saints had capitalised on Radoslaw Cierzniak misjudging the flight of a David Wotherspoon corner, allowing Steven Anderson to head the ball into an unguarded net. After 23 minutes of this game the Polish goalkeeper again found himself facing a Wotherspoon set piece, but this time he plucked the ball out of the air with supreme confidence. Better still, he then launched an attack in which Ciftci ran with the ball for nearly 50 yards, turned Brian Easton inside out and then released Erskine to guide a low shot past Alan Mannus.

The pace and clinical precision of this attack neatly summed up why the home side enjoyed the upper hand in a tightly, sometimes fiercely, contested affair. Saints, who started with Murray Davidson playing a holding role in front of their back four and Michael O’Halloran cast as a lone striker, sought to compress the midfield and stifle the creative probings of Ryan Dow and John Rankin as well as Erskine. They were successful in part, but too often careless in possession and prone to the counter-attack.

Ciftci, who endured a frustrating afternoon at the hands of the 
visitors’ Fraser Wright in the cup final, must have particularly enjoyed the torment he was inflicting on his opponents this time around. 
His vision and comfort on the ball marked him out as the fulcrum of the United front line and he could have also scored the opening goal of the game with a venomous drive after ten minutes that took a deflection and which Mannus did well to smother. “You saw his strength and ability today – but his workrate was excellent too,” observed McNamara.

As well as such sublime touches by the Turkish striker there is rarely a 90 minutes when he is not involved in some form of feisty exchange and yesterday Anderson stoked his ire with some meaty challenges.

Ciftci made sure that the Saints man knew he wasn’t for shirking it by following through on a tackle and earned a near customary yellow card.

His main threat to the Perth side, however, remained his ability to find space and thread together incisive moves towards Mannus’s goal.

United’s second was scored by Paton, but it was really Ciftci that struck again, winning the ball from Davidson and feeding Keith Watson, who sent over a low cross that was delightfully deflected into the net via the upright by the midfielder.

Even with a tactical shake-up after the break with Simon Lappin and Adam Morgan introduced to give them more forward momentum, Saints only conjured up one genuine opportunity in the entire 90 minutes, O’Halloran pouncing on Callum Morris’s miscue and sending a shot crashing off the post.

Their manager, Tommy Wright, professed himself disappointed with the manner in which they had conceded both goals. “Individual errors are being punished at the moment,” he said. “We could quite easily have come away with a nil-nil, but we’ve contributed to our own downfall. I do need another striker in and I’ve got one coming on trial next week.”

MAN OF THE MATCH: Nadir Ciftci (Dundee Utd) Mean, moody and altogether rather magnificent.

TALKING POINT: Three derby wins in a week for United – does it get much better?

Referee: B Madden. Attendance: 7,161