Dundee United’s campaign picked up further momentum last night after a win secured with an early contender for goal of the season by substitute Mario Bilate. The shot, from 25 yards, lit up the night like a lightning strike as both sides struggled to build on good opening-day victories.
Dundee United - 1 Bilate 83
Motherwell - 0
Referee: K Clancy
Now United can head to Celtic Park, where they have not won since 1992, knowing they are top of the league. Bilate, who was signed in the summer from Sparta Rottderdam after being offered to Motherwell, among other clubs, described his strike as the second best goal of his career. His best was an overhead kick for Sparta Rotterdam. “I have been told it’s several decades since Dundee United have won at Celtic Park,” a confident Bilate said afterwards. “Saturday would be the perfect time to put that right.”
Little that had happened in the preceding 82 minutes had hinted at the game’s decisive moment being quite so thrilling. We will be kind and put this down to rustiness at the start of the season. But still, those in attendance at Tannadice were entitled to expect a more engaging spectacle than was served up.
Dundee United will rightly feel they did enough to deserve victory but before Bilate’s stunning intervention, they had been undone by poor finishing.
Motherwell are normally worth watching while even more had been expected from United, described by Stuart McCall, the visitors’ manager, as an even better side than the one that finished the previous campaign. This opinion was worth nothing since it flew in the face of those who felt United would suffer for the loss of Ryan Gauld and Andy Robertson, two players sold for large profit during the summer.
In McCall’s view, United had bought well enough in the summer to withstand the absence of two promising performers. Three new signings started last night, in United’s first home league match of the season. But it was the newcomer brought on midway through the second half who emerged as the game’s pivotal figure.
McCall had mentioned Bilate during his pre-match press conference, noting that someone who counts Sparta Rotterdam among his former clubs must have something about him.
Bilate’s goal with eight minutes remaining certainly suggested he was someone with a good pedigree. He might, though, reflect wryly on the strike being sourced from a poor first touch. However, Bilate did not think twice as he rectified things with a thunderous finish that left Dan Twardzik grasping thin air as it fizzed into the far top corner.
The United line-up appeared to carry an attacking intent. Ciftci led the line but allowed himself to be lured into the middle of the park too often. Mackay-Steven and Ryan Dow were full of running but, again, their best work was done outwith the box. Motherwell struggled to get within shooting distance of Radoslaw Cierzniak’s goal. They did manage to threaten after only three minutes when Josh Law let fly from 20 yards following a short corner. The ball hit the top of the bar and went over.
McCall hinted on the eve of the match that he might be minded to try a more cautious approach following a season when United had scored 14 times against his side, winning three of four league clashes.
Mistakes rather than scoring opportunities were a defining feature of the game. At one stage in the first half, a series of misplaced passes promoted guffaws from the stands. At another point the fans applauded a slightly more impressive rally of headers between opposition players. But this passage of play simply highlighted how both sides were finding it difficult to retain possession.
Ciftci resolved to do something about the impasse when he twisted and turned in the box before unleashing a powerful shot that looked bound to cause Twardzik a problem or two. But the ball was prevented from going as far as the six-yard box thanks to a brave block by Stephen McManus.
Bilate, who came on for Keith Watson, helped re-ignite his side. But it was a defender who came closest to helping unlock the Motherwell defence when the on-loan Townsend sent a dangerous cross across the goal.
There was a sense it would take a piece of opportunism to decide such a hard-fought contest. And so it proved. Bilate saw his chance after a poor first touch and he swept the ball into the corner.
Dundee United: Cierzniak, Watson (Bilate 65), Townsend, Rankin, Fojut, Morris, Dow, Paton, Ciftci (Telfer 86), Armstrong, Mackay-Steven (Erskine 86). Subs not used: Graham, McCallum, Smith, Spittal
Motherwell: Twardzik, Reid, Francis-Angol (Ferguson 45), Carswell, Kerr, McManus, Leitch (Ainsworth 86), Lasley, Sutton (McHugh 85), Erwin, Law. Subs not used: Lawson, Nielsen, Neill, Cadden