DUNDEE United moved back up to fourth in the Premiership last night with a well-deserved win over Hibernian, but they endured some nervous moments before eventually claiming all three points.
SCORERS: Hibernian - Forster 45; Dundee United - Ciftci 43, Gunning 56, El Alagui 81
A woeful first-half penalty from Nadir Ciftci and another after the break by Gary Mackay-Steven could have been costly for the visitors, but the striker made amends with a well-taken first goal and Mackay-Steven had at least already laid on his team’s second goal for Gavin Gunning by the time he blasted his penalty over the bar.
Jordon Forster’s equaliser in first-half stoppage time kept Hibernian in the contest until substitute Farid El Alagui wrapped up the scoring late on, but it was largely thanks to United’s profligacy rather than their own efforts that Terry Butcher’s team avoided a heavier defeat. Sam Stanton continued his impressive run of form, but on the whole Hibs had little answer to the visitors’ superior speed and technique. The dismissal of Tom Taiwo 20 minutes from time for a second yellow card only compounded the difficulty they faced in keeping United at bay.
Hibs captain Liam Craig replaced Danny Handling in the only change from last week’s draw at Kilmarnock, and manager Terry Butcher persisted with a 4-4-1-1 formation in which Stanton was moved forward to take Handling’s place behind Danny Haynes. Stanton was involved from kick-off, winning a free-kick 30 yards out from which United conceded a corner. Alex Harris’ inswinger was punched straight at Paul Hanlon by Radoslaw Cierzniak, and the goalkeeper was relieved to see the rebound go wide off the Hibs centre-half’s head.
Penned back inside their own half by the home team in those opening minutes, United took a while to get into their stride. After quarter of an hour, however, they came close to opening the scoring after Ryan McGivern had fouled Mackay-Steven, again, around 30 yards from goal. Gavin Gunning tapped the free-kick to Ciftci and the Turkish striker’s shot took a deflection that wrongfooted Ben Williams but flew wide of the far post.
That effort from distance was no more than a half-chance for Ciftci, but he had a gilt-edged opportunity to open the scoring midway through the half when Paul Hanlon was wrongly ruled to have impeded Ryan Dow inside the area. The offence, if any, was committed a foot outside the area, but referee Euan Norris awarded the penalty, apparently on the say so of assistant Stuart Macaulay. Ryan McGivern was booked for protesting too long and too loudly at Macaulay, and Williams was lucky to escape a yellow card for joining in with the complaint.
Ciftci waited calmly as Norris restored order, but if he held his nerve then, he lost it in the act of taking the penalty. A dreadfully soft sidefooted effort that would have been more suited to a polite pre-match kickabout with some primary school-age mascots, it was scarcely still moving by the time Williams got down to his left to pull off a simple save.
United continued to threaten in the last minutes of the half, and it took a timely tackle from McGivern to block a Gary Mackay-Steven shot after a promising run through the middle.
A powerful Ciftci header from a Keith Watson cross was denied by an acrobatic Williams save, but three minutes before the break the keeper was unable to deny the striker the opening goal. Ciftci and Hanlon chased a long ball out of defence from Paul Paton, and the United player muscled his opponent out of the way. Ciftci then cut inside Michael Nelson before scoring with a shot that grazed Williams on its way into the net.
Having taken so long to gain the upper hand, United should have had the wits to hold on to it at least until the break. Instead, they were let down by Cierzniak in time added on.
Just as he had done right at the start of the game, the keeper flapped at a Harris corner. But this time he was out of luck, as Jordon Forster coolly headed straight back into the goal from four or five yards out.
If that was a blow to United’s morale, it was one from which they swiftly recovered. They began the second half at a high tempo, and deservedly took the lead ten minutes in. Jackie McNamara’s team are capable of some moments of real artistry, but this goal was simplicity itself: a corner to the far post by Mackay-Steven, and a strong, unstoppable header back across goal from Gavin Gunning.
It should have been 3-1, and game over, a few minutes later when United were awarded their second penalty of the night, this time for a Nelson foul on Gunning. Mackay-Steven took over the spot-kick duties from Ciftci, but in a sense did even worse – blasting the ball over the bar whereas his team-mate had at least been on target.
With 20 minutes left, Hibs’ task was made more difficult when Taiwo was sent off for a second bookable offence. Stuart Armstrong came close to ending the contest five minutes later, but shot into the sidenetting.
As time ran out, Stanton came close to grabbing a goal back, but although his free-kick had Cierzniak beaten, it rebounded to safety off the right post.
Hibernian: Forster, Nelson, Hanlon (Boateng 70), McGivern, Harris, Craig (Handling 60), Stevenson, Taiwo, Stanton, Haynes (Collins 79). Subs not used: Murdoch, Maybury, Cairney, Cummings.
Dundee United: Cierzniak, Watson, Good, Gunning, Paton, Ranklin, Dow, Robertson, Armstrong (El Alagui 78), Mackay-Steven (Gomis 90), Ciftci (Graham 78). Subs not used: McCallum, Wilson, Dillon, Connolly.