Scorers: Dundee United - Mackay-Steven (2, 77), Robertson (70), Graham (85); Partick Thistle - Muirhead (57, pen)
Bookings: Dundee United - Wilson, Paton, Souttar, Gunning; Partick Thistle - McMillan, Taylor-Sinclair, Balatoni (sent off), Bannigan (sent off)
A Tannadice vignette sums it up. Having set up all four goals, as Gauld hobbled off just before the end, victim of yet another hard tackle, the entire Eddie Thompson Stand stood as one and clapped and cheered their tiny teenaged hero to the echo.
Referees everywhere read this and heed the plea of football lovers everywhere – give Gauld the protection he needs to play the way he can and United and Scotland will have a fabulous player. If he was only a redhead, you would be talking about a new Jimmy Johnstone, and those words are not written lightly.
United manager Jackie McNamara said of his protege: “Ryan took a knock towards the end. He’s taken a bang rather than a twist so hopefully it’s not too bad. We’ll have to wrap him in cotton wool.
“He was outstanding, he was involved in every goal. His weight of pass, his decision-making and everything. He sees things before anyone else in the stadium can see it.”
McNamara hopes referees give Gauld assistance to flourish. He added: “That’s down to the referees, I’d hope they’d give that protection.”
Gauld started the ball rolling in 90 seconds, feeding Gary Mackay-Steven for the opener which was taken with aplomb, his right-foot shot from the edge of the box finding Stuart Fox’s right-hand corner.
With Gauld masterminding events and Mackay-Steven and Stuart Armstrong in rampant form, United attacked Thistle incessantly. Nadir Ciftci curled one, Fox saving superbly, before Gauld had a go himself, Fox saving his shot from fully 30 yards. Paul Paton’s right-foot shot missed narrowly to the right after a superb move had the Thistle defence in tatters.
Apart from losing the goal, the
visitors didn’t do too much wrong early on, but the fact is they just didn’t do much at all. It took them 20 minutes to win a corner and that came to nothing, too.
Thistle captain Conrad Balatoni eventually did do something, hacking down Mark Wilson with a tackle that had referee Willie Collum reaching for the yellow card almost before he made contact. Isaac Osbourne joined his captain in Collum’s book for a cynical felling of Gauld.
Mackay-Steven was inches away from making it two just before the half-hour mark, Armstrong putting him through with an adroit pass that allowed the goalscorer to lob the ball over Fox, only for Aaron Muirhead to clear the ball off the line and rip the goal net in doing so.
After Gauld beat his markers once again and fired just wide of Fox’s left post, the referee had to stop play for some minutes to allow the Thistle net to be repaired.
During the break in play, Thistle manager Alan Archibald told his men to start closing down United’s danger men much more quickly and get forward more themselves.
It worked, but all they had to show for it was a Kris Doolan volley that was easily held by Radoslaw Cierzniak. Moments before, Gauld and Mackay-Steven had worked their way through but the latter’s shot was comfortably held by Fox.
Thistle continued their improved form at the start of the second half, and Ross Forbes’s growing influence was shown by the attention he received from the United defence, Wilson being booked for downing the midfielder who went off injured shortly afterwards, while Jordan McMillan also saw yellow for
Forbes then won Thistle the equalising penalty with a fierce shot that John Souttar parried away with his arm. Muirhead made it four from four penalties this season by sending Cierzniak the wrong way.
Now we had a real fiery feast of a match. The tackles went flying in and referee Collum could have booked a number of players, but as Thistle came out, United pounced.
Gauld’s pass for Andrew
Robertson’s stunning low shot after 70 minutes was near perfection, as was his ball through for Mackay-Steven to notch his second, a minute after Balatoni received his marching orders for a second yellow-card offence.
Gauld’s pass for Brian Graham’s long-awaited goal really was perfection, the man who scored 27 for Raith Rovers last season finally getting one in the Premiership. He took it well, too.
Thistle ended with nine men as Collum decided he had seen enough and sent Stuart Bannigan straight off for a horrendous challenge on Mackay-Steven.