St Mirren 0 - 1 Dundee United: Russell penalty enough to give United three points

Johnny Russell strokes the ball home for the game's only goal

Johnny Russell strokes the ball home for the game's only goal

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DUNDEE United finally ended a winless sequence in the SPL which stretched back to August 19 with this hard-fought victory which they just about merited.

Dundee United: Russell (pen) 69

Attendance: 4333

Saints haven’t beaten yesterday’s opponents in Paisley since April, 2001, but that wretched record will continue for a while yet on the back of performances such as this.

Johnny Russell grabbed

the game’s solitary goal from the penalty spot midway through the second period and their hosts could not find an appropriate response.

It came as a result of a needless handball from veteran striker Steven Thompson, which even he was at a loss to explain.

“I don’t know why I did it,” he admitted afterwards. “Maybe I was nudged in the back – it’s the only thing I can think of which would make sense.

“I’ve seen it done before but I’ve never done it.”

United midfielder Mark Millar forced the first save of the match from Craig Samson after 12 minutes, with the goalkeeper relieved there wasn’t a predatory striker on hand when he spilled his 25-yarder.

At the other end, Lee Mair was inches away with a header from Dougie Imrie’s inswinging corner, while Jim Goodwin also came close with a dipping effort from distance.

St Mirren were the better side but that wasn’t saying much on an afternoon when neither set of players could claim to have been anywhere approaching their best form.

The Buddies had more of the ball but lacked composure at the final ball. United, on the other hand, simply lacked ambition, seemingly content from very early on to leave Paisley with a point.

Yet they could so easily have taken the lead in the 51st minute when Gavin Gunning headed Willo Flood’s free-kick against the bar with Samson beaten.

Mark Millar was cautioned for a cynical foul on Imrie and Lewis Guy spurned an inviting opening

when Thompson’s flick left him with only the goalkeeper to beat from six yards, only for him to fluff his shot.

It was to prove a costly error when United opened the scoring in their next attack. A Flood corner was headed goalwards by Gunning but there seemed to be no danger.

Quite why Thompson felt the need to handle it is a matter for him and his manager. Handle it he did, though, prompting a yellow card from referee Euan Norris, who was also left with no option but to point to the penalty spot.

Russell had been starved of service for the preceding 67 minutes but was nevertheless confident enough to step up to the mark and drive the ball low into Samson’s left-hand corner.

New signing Rudi Skacel had come on just before the opener, wearing the No.51 shirt which has upset Hibernian’s supporters so much that United manager Peter Houston was berated by them during Friday night’s game at Motherwell.

“Maybe I was naïve and I should have realised the significance because I worked at Hearts for eight-and-a-half years,” he said.

“However, I didn’t catch on and now he’s been registered and we can’t change that. But I’d like to apologise to the Hibs fans because I’m not someone who upsets people or winds them up. Rudi, though, is a player I’d like to keep.”

The manager would also like to believe that this result is a pivotal moment in United’s season. “We were second-bottom going into this game but if we win our two matches in hand we can go second-top,” he said.

“Psychologically, this could be a turning point for the players because they’ve now seen that they’ve got the rewards for their hard work.

“We played better against Aberdeen last weekend but getting the win was important for us.”

His opposite number, Danny Lennon, was philosophical about the outcome.

“We worked hard on plans to hurt United and they came off quite well,” he said.

“The operation was a success but the patient died.”

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