AN EXHILARATING Scottish Cup quarter-final replay of epic proportions ran to two hours of marvellous entertainment in the mud at Tannadice last night.
The only virtue the match lacked was a resolution and now the Tayside rivals must meet in a second replay to decide who faces Aberdeen in the semi-finals.
A pair of first-half goals from Eamonn Bannon looked certain to propel United into the last four but a second-half comeback inspired by goals from the Dundee substitute Graham Harvey, altered the picture entirely.
While United enjoyed the lion’s share of possession and played the slicker, more purposeful football throughout, Dundee were never less than dogged contributors to a memorable night. Their reserve goalkeeper, Tom Carson, was indisputedly the man of the match, pulling of a string of wondrous saves.
Five players – Gallacher, McKinlay, Harvey, Smith and Ferguson – were booked, but the contest was always stirring rather than undisciplined. Even in extra time, when United dominated, the excitement rarely relented and it was hard to deny the justice of both clubs surviving to fight another day.
In spite of heavy, persistent rain, the services of a motamop, which drained away the surface water, left the pitch in surprisingly good condition.
It was Hamish French who did the damage in the fifth minute with an incisive break down the left.
Once French had carved the opening, Dundee’s Smith only managed a feeble clearance to the feet of Bannon some 25 yards out. The former internationalist took time to steady himself before spying a minute gap and unleashing a vicious left-foot shot that spun into the net off the base of a post.
Buoyed by the gift of an early goal, United, went on to play some of their liveliest football in weeks with the pace of Kevin Gallacher and the prompting of Bannon and Redford causing problems.
Apart from an Angus header after a chip from Shannon had lured Main off his line, Dundee found little respite from the early United pressure. Certainly, Hegarty should have increased his side’s lead after an inviting cross from Bannon had presented the centre-half with a clear-cut sight of goal.
Once they’d composed themselves, Dundee did come into the match before the interval, Wright hustling and bustling through the middle and McKinlay lending the attack intelligent support from left-back. The Dundee defender, however was involved in a feud with Gallacher and, following separate incidents, both young men could consider themselves fortunate only to be shown a yellow card by referee McCluskey.
Their difference of opinion was the one sour note in an otherwise splendid first half that was rounded off by another spectacular goal from Bannon two minutes before the break. This one stemmed from a long free kick struck by Bowman that should have been cleared by Saunders. Ferguson touched the ball on to the midfield player, who knocked it up in the air before executing an exquisite overhead kick 12 yards into the far corner of the net. McKinlay was injured during the first half and failed to reappear at the start of the second. This allowed the Dens Park side to reorganise along more positive lines by pushing into a three-man attack and bringing Shannon back into defence. For a spell, however, United continued to enjoy an edge. Redford forced a superb save from Carson with a 20-yard shot following good work by Hegarty and Bannon. And United’s goal-scorer came within an ace of completing his hat-trick when a header from Gallacher corner almost slipped under Carson’s body.
Although they were in a commanding position, United could hardly afford the moment of slackness that threw Dundee a lifeline in the 58th minute. Mennie played the ball across the goal where the Dundee substitute, Graham Harvey, made sweet contact with an 18-yard volley that swept past Main.
Dundee then required a couple of breathtaking saves from Carson – denying Bannon and McGinnis respectively – to maintain their hopes of producing an equaliser that would take the replay into extra time.
Given their outfield superiority it was remarkable that United should fritter away a two-goal lead, but the Dundee equaliser arrived in the 71st minute after Narey had given the ball away in the muddy midfield. Rafferty initiated the counter attack for Wright to make the run and cross down the left. Main gathered the ball but then dropped it and left Harvey the simple task of dispatching his second goal of the night.
Dundee took great heart from their fightback and even thought they’d won this riveting encounter in normal time when Harvey slipped a low shot past Main only to have the effort disallowed for offside.
United somehow managed to respond by raising their game once more and only further heroics from Carson stopped efforts from Bannon and Gallacher.
Thus did a magnificent replay spill over into extra time.
Dundee Utd: Main, Bowman, McGinnes, McInally, Hegarty, Narey, Bannon, Gallacher, Ferguson, French, Redford. Subs: Clark, Paatelainen.
Dundee: Carson, Forsyth, McKinlay, Shannon, Smith, Saunders, Mennie, Rafferty, Wright, Coyne, Angus. Subs: Lawrence, Harvey.
Referee: J McCluskey.
• Despite Dundee’s heroic fightback, United prevailed in the second replay at Dens Park, winning 3-0.