THRILLING, unpredictable, fragile – and generally good, all-round entertainment. You could apply all of those words to Dundee United’s season so far and they pretty much summed up another engaging and occasionally exasperating 90 minutes from them yesterday.
They did win as comfortably as the scoreline suggests, but, equally, they could have ended up needlessly dropping more points, only putting the issue beyond doubt with a last-minute goal from Aidan Connolly.
It probably pays to fasten your seatbelt before setting off on the rollercoaster ride that is watching United these days, but manager Jackie McNamara was his normal, unflustered self as he reflected on some wonderfully incisive attacking play from his men, led by Stuart Armstrong, who seems to have rediscovered the fire that made him one of the stand-out youngsters last season.
“It was really pleasing – lots of good passing and energy,” remarked McNamara. “We should have put the game to bed a lot sooner, though. It was similar to our last game against Motherwell where we missed chance after chance and it gives the opposition a lift. But, over the piece, I thought we were really good in spells”.
Kilmarnock really could have snatched something out of this game as they were only one in arrears for almost the entire second half, but they didn’t do enough to halt the slide which has now seen them lose four in row. The Ayrshire outfit’s manager, Allan Johnston, thought they had more than held their own, but was frustrated at the way that, having got themselves level just before the interval, they again found themselves trailing when the whistle went for half-time.
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“We get it back to one each and then to lose the second goal when we did is really frustrating,” said Johnston. “It’s come from a throw-in and just not getting tight enough. This is a really hard place to come and get a result, but there were a lot more positives for us today – our passing was a lot better, but we just can’t afford to lose goals like we did”.
Contributing to the theme of just who are the real United that hung over this game was the fact that Kilmarnock took to the field sporting an unfamiliar all-black kit, complete with tangerine trimmings. However, as McNamara’s men quickly let loose a series of rapid-fire attacks almost from the kick-off, it wasn’t difficult to distinguish the side looking to make the most of home advantage. It took just over five minutes for them to get themselves in front, with a lovely interchange of passes between Chris Erksine, Armstrong and Nadir Ciftci splitting the Kilmarnock defence apart, allowing the Turkish striker to bury a venomous low drive beyond Craig Samson after advancing into the box. It was a delightful finish and it always looked likely that there would be more to follow.
Gary Mackay-Steven was another who seemed restored to something approaching his best yesterday and a slaloming run across the face of the Kilmarnock box set up Charlie
Telfer, who was unfortunate to see a decent effort ricochet to safety off a defender. Minutes later, the winger demonstrated his adeptness at set- pieces hasn’t deserted him, either, with a dipping 25-yard effort which Samson tipped over the bar.
The Ayrshire men did have their fair share of possession up to this point, but weren’t doing that much with it. Cue, however, one glimpse of magic from the trusty boot of Alexei Eremenko to pick out the on-rushing Rory McKenzie, who sent a blistering shot against the upright. The loose ball was picked up by Manual Pascali lurking on the edge of the box and he drilled in a surprise equaliser.
A hush descended on Tannadice after this mugging, but the home support were quickly in full voice again as United restored their lead within minutes,
Erskine and Armstrong combining for the latter to curl another fine shop into the bottom corner of Samson’s goal.
It was probably hoping for too much for the breathtaking pace and drama of the first half to be replicated after the interval, but, even so, the drop in quality was palpable. Matters weren’t helped by a series of stoppages and while United remained on top, they missed a fair handful of opportunities to put the game beyond the visitors’ reach by poor decision-making in the final third of the field. Ciftci was the chief villain in this regard, all too often deciding to have a go himself rather than pass to a colleague in a better position to capitalise.
They left it late to confirm all three points, but ultimately did it in some style, with the coruscating
Armstrong sweeping the ball from one flank to the other, Ryan Dow crossing low and Connolly turning it in from close range.
Dundee Utd: Cierzniak, Dillon, Morris, Fojut, Townsend, Paton, Armstrong, Telfer, Erskine (Dow 70), Ciftci (Connolly 84), Mackay-Steven (Spittal 70). Subs not used: Szromnik, Butcher, Watson, Souttar. Booked: Paton, Telfer. Goals: Ciftci 6; Armstrong 42; Connlly 90+3.
Kilmarnock: Samson, Barbour, Pascali, Connolly, Chantler, McKenzie, Clingan, Hamill, Muirhead (Cairney 73), Eremenko (Johnston 67), Magennis (Miller 68). Subs not used: Brennan, O’Hara, Ashcroft, Slater. Booked: Barbour, Cairney, Johnston. Goals: Pascali 39.
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