BILLY Stark is not a man given to hyperbole so, when he compares Ryan Gauld to Kenny Dalglish, it is as well to take notice. The Scotland under-21 manager was referring only to the player’s goal celebrations but, if there are many more of those, you can bet that the analogy will be extended.
Scorers: Dundee United - Gauld 16, 63; Paton 18, Robertson 90
Twice at Fir Park today, the 17-year-old was off and running with that beaming smile of his, justifiably pleased with himself. In a performance of stunning promise by United, he scored the first and third of their four goals before leaving the field after 67 minutes to protect a head knock.
Gauld signed a new contract last week but the hope is that, after treating us to his first, precocious steps in the professional game, he will benefit from the experience and go on to become a special player. Perhaps even another Dalglish?
From United’s point of view, the best thing is that Gauld is far from their only prodigy. John Souttar, Andrew Robertson, Gary Mackay-Steven and Stuart Armstrong all contributed yesterday to the biggest demonstration yet of their potential under Jackie McNamara.
“If we play like that, we can do anything in this league,” said Gauld. “We could beat anybody when we play as well as we did today. Other weeks, we have not taken our chances, but this week, we were outstanding from start to finish.”
Even Stuart McCall had to agree. The Motherwell manager admitted that his team, who had won their previous five league games at Fir Park, had been given a chasing. “Obviously you don’t want to get beat at home by that scoreline, but I have been in this job for three years and that is by far and away the best away performance I have seen here.”
McCall recently has been suffering from a sore throat, an affliction that will not have been eased by this experience. In the opening half-hour alone, he was shouting himself hoarse on the touchline, so plentiful were the mistakes in his team’s disorientated defence.
It should be pointed out that they were missing Shaun Hutchison, Steven Hammell and Simon Ramsden but even their first-choice back four would have struggled. Gauld, Mackay-Steven and Armstrong buzzed about like flies behind Nadir Ciftci, stretching and pulling and quite often embarrassing a Motherwell rearguard so confused that it contributed to both of the goals by which United led after only 18 minutes.
The first culprit was Stephen McManus. When he got caught under Souttar’s cross, his header succeeded only in helping the ball on its way so that, when Gunnar Neilsen could manage merely a powder-puff punch, Gauld was on hand to find the net with a deflected shot.
Two minutes later, Motherwell conceded again. This time, the root of the trouble was Francis-Angol, who was caught in possession by Gauld. The ball was shuttled to Mackay-Steven and then Ciftci, whose shot was blocked. When the big striker tried to head the loose ball beyond Neilsen, it broke to Paul Paton, who nodded over the line.
The home side were in disarray. Had it not been for an offside flag, they would have been three down at half-time, and nobody could have complained. Gauld fed Robertson in the channel, but as the full-back’s low shot disappeared between the goalkeeper’s legs, the assistant
referee raised his flag. Motherwell’s solitary effort of a sobering opening period was John Sutton’s angled shot, touched away by Radoslaw Cierzniak, which is perhaps why McCall decided to start the second half with James McFadden on for Adam Cummins.
It made no difference. Within 15 minutes of the restart, United had hit the bar twice, first with Robertson’s deflected shot, then when Mackay-Steven’s cross bounced on top of it. When an injury to Stuart Carswell forced Motherwell to play briefly with ten men, the visitors took full advantage. Ciftci’s reverse pass set up Gauld, who dispatched a low, angled shot under the keeper.
Motherwell then suffered the indignity of seeing United happily withdraw Gauld, Armstrong and Ciftci, after which there was still time for a fourth. Robertson, who had been outstanding throughout, compensated for his earlier disappointments by stepping up to lash a left-foot shot high into the net.
Motherwell: Nielsen, Cummins (McFadden 46), Kerr, McManus, Francis-Angol, Carswell (Murray 64), Lasley, Vigurs, Ainsworth, Sutton, Anier (Moore 67).
Subs not used: Lawson, McHugh, Stewart, Leitch.
Dundee United: Cierzniak, Wilson, Souttar, Gunning, Robertson, Gauld (Graham 67), Rankin, Armstrong (Goodwillie 72), Paton, Mackay-Steven, Ciftci (Gomis 80).
Subs not used: Dillon, Watson, Down, McCallum.
Ref: S Maclean