THE most surprising thing about this match was that it included just one goal.
Scorer: Dundee Utd: Ciftci 56
Dundee United dominated from beginning to end but their inability to pull away from their embattled visitors almost cost them dear.
A glorious volleyed goal by Turkish striker Nadir Ciftci gave United the lead, but they remain equally indebted to keeper Radoslaw Cierzniak for a stunning last- minute save which spared their blushes against a side who are winless in ten games and remain the subject of a damaging boycott by a vocal portion of their support.
“That was a world-class save at the end by Rado,” said a relieved United manager Jackie McNamara, “but there’s no doubt we should have scored a few more goals.”
Kilmarnock manager Allan Johnston was even more blunt: “We’ve got to turn this around, we’ve got to improve. We’ve got two massive home games coming up and we need to win them both.”
Above all, this was a match that was lit up by Ryan Gauld, reportedly a transfer target for several English clubs. Only just 17, the waiflike midfielder is already the main creative spark for United and looked most likely to unpick Killie’s defence. Roaming at will and delighting the crowd with his close control, he always seemed to have time to pick the perfect pass or, if there was no willing runner, to have a pop himself as he did on a couple of occasions.
The most likely beneficiary of the youngster’s virtuosity was David Goodwillie, whose pace got him behind the Killie defence twice, the first seeing him scythed down by onrushing Kilmarnock keeper Craig Samson on the edge of the area, with referee Willie Collum waving penalty appeals away, the second following a sublimely deft Gauld through-ball seeing Goodwillie’s shot rattle back off the post.
Nor was that the youngster’s only contribution. The out-of-sorts Stuart Armstrong could also have got on the end of Gauld’s low driven cross after he ghosted to the Killie touchline, and also produced a fizzing driven shot from outside the box shortly before the break.
Killie must have counted themselves fortunate to have kept United out by half-time, especially as they failed to produce any decent attempt on goal before the break. A good deal of the responsibility for keeper Cierzniak’s tranquil first 45 minutes lay with young central defender John Souttar, who’s even younger than Gauld and played in the same youth side as the midfielder when growing up in Brechin. Wonderfully languid and graceful with the ball at his feet, he was all over Kris Boyd whenever the former Rangers striker had the ball. So effective was Souttar’s shepherding that Boyd never came close to scoring, much to the striker’s
For all their domination, the home side hit half-time on level terms and in the opening exchanges of the second half it looked as if they were in danger of another half of frustration. They ratcheted up the intensity and bombarded the Killie goal, but Samson was in inspired form. Within the first ten minutes of the second period he denied Goodwillie, Gauld and
Ciftci in clear one-on-one situations in quick succession.
Killie couldn’t resist such pressure indefinitely, but it was also clear that it would take something special to beat Samson, and that’s what the home side conjured when Goodwillie, seemingly going nowhere near the corner flag, crossed to the edge of the penalty box where Ciftci hit a purely-struck volley which arrowed past the Killie keeper to finally put the Arabs ahead.
From that moment, it looked a matter of how many they would score. Yet despite pressing constantly, they managed to create relatively few clear-cut chances, with a Gauld free-kick that went inches wide from outside the box after he’d been dragged down by Killie skipper 20 minutes from time the nearest they came until Gary Mackay-Steven came on and began to run at the
Killie defence, with sub Ryan Gow also fashioning a late strike that was well saved by Sansom.
Yet United’s failure to register a second goal almost cost them dear. Killie sub Jackson Irvine forced a good save from Cierzniak with his first touch with 15 minutes remaining, and then Sammy
Clingan struck a beautiful free-kick with three minutes left, forcing Cierzniak to react smartly.
Just how close United came to squandering two points became clear in the last minute when only a remarkably athletic save from the United keeper kept Irvine’s magnificent shot from outside the area from going into the top corner. It was close, but it never should have been.