THREE points earned on Hallowe’en and suddenly the future is a less frightening prospect for Dundee United and their supporters after Billy Mckay’s late penalty ended a ten-game winless league run.
The Tannadice side remain rooted to the bottom of the table but they’ll be hoping that this spirited win, the first for new boss Mixu Paatelainen, can alleviate their relegation fears as they look to kick start their season.
“It was a typical fighting Scottish match. It was hectic. It was fast and furious. But I enjoyed it. I loved it,” said Paatelainen. “I’ve told the players that’s the standard now in terms of spirit and commitment. I couldn’t fault anyone in the team. I don’t think it was a good footballing performance. But it’s a good win.”
Starved of positivity for so long, the home support enthusiastically clapped the hosts off at half-time, despite the opening period being fairly even on the balance of play.
There was reason for optimism from the off as United almost took the lead within two minutes. Adam Taggart raced on to a through ball from John Rankin and easily side-stepped the onrushing Gary Woods. As the crowd rose, the referee’s whistle cut through their anticipation. Taggart had been flagged offside.
Ross County shook off the early scare, enjoying a period of possession during which Martin Woods’ low cross was almost turned in by Craig Curran at the near post. Up at the other end Scott Fraser should have been in on goal when found by a cushioned Taggart pass, but with the goal looming in front of him, the youngster’s touch evaded him.
County had their own effort ruled out when Tony Dingwall flicked a cool effort past Michal Szromnik with the linesman’s flag once again keeping the game scoreless. This was soon followed by a stunning reaction save from Woods in the County goal, who spared Jackson Irvine’s blushes after the midfielder had almost turned a header, from a Fraser free-kick, into his own net.
Szromnik then made a similarly impressive stop, though from a shot further out, as Dingwall tried his luck with County finishing the half strongly.
The vocal encouragement helped lift United for the start of the second half as they went close three times in the opening 15 minutes. Rankin had a shot deflected just wide before John Souttar blazed over when found alone at the back post by a Sean Dillon cross. When Blair Spittal sent a free-kick just wide, it appeared that a goal was only a matter of time.
Then the game got bogged down in scrappy midfield play. Once a rhythm became established again it was County who were on top. Scott Boyd headed over when found completely alone inside the area, while Irvine hooked a volley over from another set-piece.
The game seemed to be heading for an inevitable goalless conclusion before Martin Woods rashly fouled Fraser a yard inside the penalty area and Mckay sent the keeper the wrong way from the spot.
Woods almost atoned for giving away the penalty with an outrageous shot from 35 yards that clipped the top of the crossbar.
County kept up the pressure until the end and had the Tannadice fans collectively gnashing at their fingernails when, in the sixth minute of time added on, Aidan Connolly was sent off for a second booking after clipping Michael Garydne running through the centre.
Substitute Alex Schalk’s shot from the resulting free kick forced a save from Szromnik and the referee blew for full-time immediately afterwards, much to the delight of an ecstatic, and mightily relieved, home crowd.