A HOWLER from Dundee United goalkeeper Radoslaw Cierzniak presented Stevie May with his 22nd goal of the season as St Johnstone won 1-0 at Tannadice.
Dundee Utd 0-1 St Johnstone
SCORERS: St Johnstone - May (48)
Referee: C Allan
Radoslaw Cierzniak, the Dundee United goalkeeper, had one of those moments he would rather forget as he contrived to gift Tayside rivals St Johnstone the points in a stormy league meeting at Tannadice last night.
The Polish No 1 has enjoyed an otherwise solid season for Jackie McNamara’s team but let his guard slip at the vital moment by allowing Stevie May’s tame 48th minute shot to get the better of him to effectively hand Tommy Wright’s visitors victory on a plate.
It was May’s 22nd goal of the season and put an end to the Tangerines’ hopes of securing a sixth straight win.
Tempers boiled over towards the end as United manager McNamara, along with Saints counterpart Wright, were both sent to the stand for a verbal spat on the touchlines as the Perth outfit did enough to hold on for a hard-fought win.
There was little surprise that United fielded the same side which emphatically swept past Inverness 5-0 in the Scottish Cup quarter-final last weekend.
Still missing for the Tangerines was on-loan Newcastle defender Curtis Good who is expected to be out for around six weeks after injuring his hip while making his Australia debut in a friendly against Ecuador last midweek. But they were buoyed by having teenager Ryan Gauld back on the bench after a back injury had ruled him out since mid-February.
St Johnstone had also secured their own place in the Scottish Cup semi-final so went into this Tayside derby in reasonable fettle.
Striker Steven MacLean was suspended so was replaced by Michael O’Halloran as the visitors looked to strengthen their push for a top-six place. They began brightly and within the first minute they had a chance to take the lead in simple fashion.
David Wotherspoon’s inswinging corner was met by Gary MacDonald who rose unchallenged, only to see his header go over the bar with Cierzniak committed off his line.
A few minutes later, May ought to have put the visitors ahead. Chris Millar’s ball forward caught the home defence napping, and just as May looked destined to net the opener, his shot from 12 yards was well saved by Cierzniak.
Saints had an edge about their early play and next up was O’Halloran whose driving run into the penalty box was followed by a low cross which United defender Keith Watson did well to sweep away to safety. Saints suffered a blow in 21 minutes when Brian Easton hobbled off injured, and his place was taken by Tim Clancy.
The hosts were struggling to reach the heights of their win in the Highlands a few days earlier, although they did have a golden opportunity to make the breakthrough midway through the first half.
John Rankin’s defence-splitting pass released Gary Mackay-Steven who took the ball round visiting keeper Alan Mannus, only to see his shot come back off the post.
Shortly after, United striker Nadir Ciftci turned two defenders inside the box, but could only fire his left-foot shot straight at Mannus.
Saints went ahead in comical fashion within three minutes of the restart. Gavin Gunning’s pass up the line was intercepted by Wotherspoon who then fed May. The Saints forward let fly from 30 yards and was stunned when he saw Cierzniak make a mess of things by spilling his shot and letting it run through his legs.
The on-fire Perth forward could have grabbed his second in 55 minutes, but this time he headed narrowly over the bar from Steven Anderson’s cushioned header.
There was controversy in 73 minutes as United launched strong claims for a penalty.
Substitute Gauld released El Alagui who appeared to be barged by O’Halloran, but referee Crawford Allan was nearby and waved play on.
Then, 60 seconds later, all hell broke loose when Gauld seemed to be fouled by Clancy as he got his shot away.
Arabs boss McNamara felt they should have been awarded a free kick and was livid at the referee, but he was sent to the stand and was followed by Wright and the pair watched the rest of the match from afar.
Saints, for their part, will hope to build on only their third away win of the season while United will put it down to just one of those nights.
Dundee Utd: Cierzniak, Watson, Dillon (Graham 85), Gunning, Paton, Rankin, Armstrong (Gauld 66), Robertson, Mackay-Steven, Dow (El Alagui 66), Ciftci.
St Johnstone: Mannus, Miller (Cregg 90), Mackay, Anderson, Easton (Clancy 21), Millar, Dunne, McDonald, Wotherspoon, May, O’Halloran (Croft 83).