THE longer this match went on the more likely it appeared that Partick Thistle would be the side to take the three points.
Scorer: Dundee United - Ciftci 84
The visitors were relentless in their pressing, rock solid at the back, and were growing in confidence with each attack. Unfortunately for Alan Archibald’s team, with Kallum Higginbotham missing through injury, they lacked that little bit of match-winning quality in the final third and were burned by the only United player who looked as if he had such quality.
It was far from a vintage performance from Nadir Ciftci. The Turkish striker received little service and on the rare occasion he did get into promising positions, he ran into a wall of Thistle shirts.
Most players would have been substituted long before the 84th minute on the strength of such a performance. But then most players don’t possess the undoubted physical and technical qualities Ciftci has.
United had created very little during the second 45 minutes when Sean Dillon’s speculative long ball caught out the Thistle defence. The opponents had stopped everything that was thrown their way up until that point, but somehow allowed the ball to run for Ciftci streaking through the centre.
He still had 45 yards to travel to goal but, just when it looked as if Daniel Seaborne was going to catch the attacker, Ciftci shifted up another gear and motored away from the defender. Seaborne was left with little option but to bring him down inside the penalty area. It was a perfect example of a professional foul and referee Steven McLean showed no hesitation in dishing out a red card.
Seaborne could have no complaints about the challenge itself, but the Englishman was furious that Ciftci had not been flagged for offside in the build-up. It was an assertion backed up by his manager.
“The goal shouldn’t have stood,” said Archibald after the match. “From our point of view, he [Ciftci] was two yards offside. We were told that it hit Abdul Osman’s leg on the way through and that’s why he was on, but we can’t see that.”
Regardless, Ciftci made no mistake from the penalty spot, staggering his run and rolling the ball past Scott Fox. It wasn’t quite daylight robbery, but it was very harsh on a Thistle side who had improved tremendously from their two trips to Tannadice last season, where they lost 4-1 both times.
From the start they showed their intent. Pressing United all over the park, they never allowed the hosts to settle into a rhythm, eventually frustrating the home crowd into jeering their own players during a drab first half.
Kris Doolan had the first opportunity on eight minutes. The visiting No.9 collected a loose ball after Stuart Armstrong was robbed in possession and attempted to curl the ball around Radoslaw Cierzniak, who had to be at full stretch to tip it wide.
Christie Elliott had an even better opportunity on 22 minutes as he struck first time on the volley after being found in space by James Craigen’s cross. Unfortunately for the winger he aimed his effort right at the goalkeeper and the score remained goalless.
United remained a threat throughout the first 45 minutes, but it mainly came via the counter-attack. Stuart Armstrong flashed a shot wide of the post at the end of an impressive run, while Ciftci wasted a glorious chance right on the cusp of half-time. Presented with a one-on-one opportunity the striker could only belt the ball off the Scott Fox’s legs as the goalkeeper closed him down.
Growing in confidence, Thistle really began to assert themselves in the second half. Steven Lawless attempted a low shot from the edge of the area which forced Cierzniak into a smart save before Stephen O’Donnell flashed an effort across the face of goal after a late run into the penalty area.
The crowd implored United to wake up and produce the kind of flowing football they were used to seeing from them last season. But instead the home players retreated further into their shell. Elliott was the next Thistle player to go close with a curling shot which rattled the top of the crossbar.
There only looked like being one winner before Dillon’s speculative punt turned the tide. Yet again United won ugly. Jackie McNamara’s side have certainly added more consistency to their game but at the cost of the high-tempo attacking play everyone gushed over last term.
“We’re a different team from last year,” the United manager told the media after the match. “It’s been a story of this season so far that we’ve won when not playing at our best. But, if you look at last year, I think we would have lost that game, although I have said that a few times now this season.”