DESPERATE for a confidence-boosting win ahead of the biggest double-header in the club’s recent history, Dundee United turned in an appalling first-half performance amid a flat 90 minutes to slump to their third defeat in a winless four-game streak.
Scorers: Partick Thistle - O’Donnell 34; McGowan og 41
Worse than the display is the fact they’ll likely have to go into the Scottish Cup quarter-final and League Cup Final against Celtic, as well as the next league game against the same opposition, without their undisputed star player, Nadir Ciftci.
His absence from the quarter-final and league match is not yet assured, though United are unlikely to be successful in their appeal against the two-game ban for an incident in the midweek draw with Inverness if TV evidence is anything to go by.
McNamara could have sat the player out and constructed a system around one of the deputies: Henri Anier, Robbie Muirhead or Mario Bilate. But, with United struggling to find their feet after the January exit of Stuart Armstrong and Gary Mackay-Steven, the manager wanted to roll the dice on Ciftci miraculously avoiding the ban. “I’m hopeful. Confidence is another matter because of what’s happened in the past,” said McNamara, “but we’ll go down on Thursday and present our case.
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“Do I have faith in the system? No. If Nadir is found guilty, then he’ll miss the whole month of March, which is ridiculous for what he’s done.”
Even with Ciftci spearheading the attack, they were second best to a side 29 points worse off than Celtic in the Scottish Premiership. Lucky to avoid an early Kallum Higginbotham ‘goal’ when the attacker was caught marginally offside, they then allowed the same player to combine with Lyle Taylor for a shot inside the area. Both chances were within the game’s first seven minutes.
The home side could have been in front when a Jaroslaw Fojut sclaff across goal was just behind a waiting Ciftci, but at the back they were struggling to find an answer to Thistle’s runners in behind the high defensive line. Taylor wasted another chance on 12 minutes as the striker shot straight at Cierzniak after finding himself goal-side of the last defender.
Thistle simply battled harder than United and, particularly in the opening 45 minutes, had quality to their play which the hosts couldn’t replicate. Certainly, there will be few goals in Scottish football this weekend of a higher quality than Thistle’s opener.
Stephen O’Donnell charged forward from defence before playing Taylor down the right wing. The striker could have crossed for Steven Lawless, but chose a back-heeled return to O’Donnell. The full-back executed a step-over and skipped past Paul Paton before curling an inch-perfect shot into the far corner.
“It was a good strike, but it’s all about the team right now,” said O’Donnell after the match. “After last week [3-1 defeat by Ross County] we can’t get carried away right now. It’s a tough time for the team. We just need to concentrate on scoring goals and keeping clean sheets, luckily I managed to do both today.”
If the opener was sublime, the goal which doubled Partick’s tally seven minutes later was ridiculous. Higginbotham slipped onto his backside when taking a corner from the left, and yet that didn’t stopped his cross clearing the head of two home defenders before bouncing off the heel of an unsuspecting Ryan McGowan and rolling into the net.
McNamara sent his troops out early for the second half, but they still couldn’t force Thistle goalkeeper Paul Gallacher into a save. They waited until the 80th minute for their first chance as the substitutes combined, with Mario Bilate playing through Henri Anier. The Estonian striker took a dreadful first touch before firing his rushed shot well off target.
In the dying minutes, Ciftci served up a chance on a plate for Anier, but the former Motherwell hitman again fluffed his lines. A bad omen ahead of the Celtic triple-header if there ever was one.
Dundee United: Cierzniak, Dillon, McGowan, Fojut, Dixon, Paton, Telfer (Anier 52 ), Spittal, Erskine (Bilate - 76’ ), Dow, Ciftci
Partick: Gallacher , Bannigan, Frans, Balatoni, O’Donnell, Higginbotham (McDaid 69 ), Lawless, Craigen, Osman, Elliott, Taylor (Doolan 79 )
Referee: Greg Aitken. Attendance: 6,517