AFTER comprehensively dismembering Dundee in the league three days earlier, Dundee United had to be content with a far more modest – and scarcely deserved – League Cup victory over their city rivals last night.
Scorer: Dundee United - Fojut (90)
The home team were a man up for most of the match after Martin Boyle’s first-half dismissal, but had to rely on a stoppage-time header from Jaroslaw Fojut to claim their place in the last eight.
Dundee, for whom Greg Stewart had a first-half penalty saved, can take immense credit from such a narrow defeat, following as it did so hard on the heels of that 4-1 drubbing at Dens Park on Sunday. But for United, the mere fact of victory – their first over Dundee in the competition since the 1980 final – was more important than its meagre margin.
“It was quite a frustrating night at times and it was just a relief in the end,” United manager Jackie McNamara said. “They made things hard for us and it took us a while to settle into the game.
“The sending off changed things. The important thing for us was to get through to the next round.”
Dundee boss Paul Hartley agreed that the dismissal had had a big effect on the match, arguing it had been unjust. “In the first half hour we were absolutely outstanding,” Hartley said. “The sending off changes the game – we didn’t think it was a sending off. The lad [Boyle] is gutted – he feels that he got the ball.
“James McPake was phenomenal at the back and we showed tonight we’re a decent team. It was night and day from Sunday.”
Dundee were first to show, and after five minutes Boyle’s powerful left-foot shot was tipped past for a corner. Boyle took it himself, sending a long delivery from the left to the lurking Luka Tankulic at the back post. His low drive was headed for the corner of the net, but Radoslaw Cierzniak stuck out a foot to block. United had the chance to counter-attack almost immediately when a long pass from deep inside their own half found Stuart Armstrong free on the left. The midfielder had support inside him, but over-elaborated then went down under a soft challenge a few yards outside the box. Referee Craig Thomson dismissed his claim for a foul.
Dundee continued to enjoy the bulk of the pressure, and were given the perfect chance to take the lead after 18 minutes when an ill-advised lunge by John Rankin on Paul McGowan saw Thomson point to the spot. Stewart’s centrally-placed shot seemed to be struck firmly enough, but Cierzniak saved with his left foot after diving to his right.
For a time Dundee continued to press despite that failure, but then with nearly half an hour played they were reduced to ten men for the second match in succession. Armstrong again did the damage with the initial break, and this time when he went to ground he was awarded a foul – with Boyle controversially being shown red for the offence. It was not clear whether the dismissal was for denial of a goal-scoring opportunity or for another foul that Thomson had witnessed. Nadir Ciftci’s free kick from just outside the box hit the bar with Kyle Letheren beaten, but, while Dundee survived that attempt, there was no doubt that the balance of play had tipped against them.
In the opening stages of the second half, United steadily turned the screw, and Ciftci hit the bar again after 51 minutes, this time from open play. Gary Mackay-Steven then replaced Ryan Dow in the first change of the night, minutes before Mario Bilate came on for John Rankin.
A United goal looked to be only a matter of time, and appeared to have arrived when Armstrong fired in a low shot from a Sean Dillon pass, only for Letheren to tip it on to the post with a last-ditch effort.
The introduction of Philip Roberts for Tankulic was an attempt by Dundee boss Paul Hartley to give the United defence something to think about that would deter them from drifting forwards to support the attack – something they had been doing to increasing effect.
Dundee came back into the match midway through the second half, and, following a short corner, Paul McGowan found the roof of the net from the edge of the box with an intelligent chip. United still had the bulk of possession, but Dundee’s ability to funnel back into a tight defensive formation denied them the space they needed to create real openings as opposed to the half chances from which Ciftci had nearly profited.
With little more than five minutes left, McPake, who had been limping throughout the second half with a dead leg, came agonisingly close to connecting with a low Roberts cross. A winner for the visitors at that stage would have been against the run of play, but they could hardly be grudged the extra half-hour that promised to ensue.
Instead, in the second minute of time added on, United struck. Mackay-Steven delivered a straightforward corner from the right, and Fojut rose to head in, unopposed, from a yard out.
As the United players congregated to celebrate, one individual ran towards them from the away end, and was hauled away by stewards just in time. For Dundee it was a sorry end to a contest from which they had emerged with much credit.
Dundee United: Cierzniak, Dillon, Fojut, Morris, Watson, Armstrong, Paton, Rankin Booked (Bilate 57), Spittal (Erskine 77), Dow (Mackay-Steven 54), Ciftci
Dundee: Letheren, McGinn, Irvine, Konrad, McPake, Ferry, Boyle, McAlister, McGowan, Tankulic (Roberts 58), Stewart