THE scoreline is a fair reflection of the play at Tannadice yesterday, as United outclassed a very poor St Mirren to move up to fifth in the table.
“We can be top three or four,” said two-goal Nadir Ciftci afterwards. “We are playing the most attractive football in the country right now.”
United might well have scored seven or eight, and could have started in the first minute. Ciftci was brought down by Saints’ captain Jim Goodwin some 25 yards from goal, and the Turk took the free-kick himself, sending a low shot narrowly past debutant goalkeeper Marian Kello’s right–hand post.
After 11 minutes, Ciftci cut in from the left wing and set up Andrew Robertson who should have done much better than blast the ball over.
With Ciftci, Ryan Gauld and Gary Mackay-Steven in rampant mood, St Mirren were pegged back into their own half, leaving only former United man Steven Thompson up front – he was a very lonely man for the duration of a half in which the visitors did not have a single shot on goal.
The visitors were brave in defence, it must be said, Goodwin throwing himself prone to deflect a fierce volley by Paul Paton, with Brian Graham’s header just off target only seconds later.
Making his 100th appearance for United, John Rankin made a major contribution to the opening goal after 26 minutes, his long pass towards the penalty box allowing Ciftci to evade the attentions of Lee Mair, stab the ball under the advancing Kello, and then follow up to force the ball over the line.
It was no more than United deserved for their dominance up to that point, and it was no surprise when they went further ahead eight minutes later through a penalty won and taken by that man Ciftci. His clever turn just inside the box bamboozled Sean Kelly, who duly felled the midfielder, and no matter what the pecking order for penalty takers might be at Tannadice, it was Ciftci who grabbed the ball and justified his own confidence by sending Kello the wrong way.
Two up and in cruise control, United continued to attack and Gauld’s 38th minute low shot from distance only just went outside Kello’s right post with the goalkeeper beaten.
After a Graham header that went wide and high, it was the low route that almost brought Gauld a goal, the nippy 17-year-old battling through the Saints’ defence only to be foiled at the last ditch by Kello.
St Mirren started the second half in better heart and Radoslaw Cierzniak actually touched the ball meaningfully on a couple of occasions, but it was still United who looked the more likely to score, especially after 54 minutes when dazzling interplay between Rankin and Gauld saw the latter clear in the box only to mishit his shot wide.
There was no mistake about the teenager’s next shot, however.
The St Mirren defence seemed to think there was no danger and appeared to hang off him as Gauld cut inside and fired an unstoppable left-foot shot from 25 yards high past Kello.
“He has a man’s brain in a wee boy’s body,” said United manager Jackie McNamara afterwards. Just wait until Gauld’s muscles catch up.
Playing some champagne stuff against the hapless Buddies, United could have made it four moments later when the unlucky Graham, Gauld and Ciftci all had a go at goal in a rare old stramash inside the Saints’ penalty box.
St Mirren manager Danny Lennon had seen enough and sent on Jason Naismith, Jake Caprice, and Gary Harkins for Goodwin, David Van Zanten and John McGinn. In turn the United fans rose to cheer an old favourite, Morgaro Gomis, as he and new boy Chris Erskine replaced Paton and Gauld.
When Thompson finally broke through after 76 minutes, he seemed certain to score after knocking the ball past Czierniak, but Robertson had sprinted back and made the clearance, before Erskine curled a corker past Kello for the fourth after 83 minutes.
“We all have off days,” said Saints manager Lennon, “but we had ours collectively.”
In fairness he also praised the quality of United, and yesterday they had quality to spare.