Airdrie United 2 - 6 Dundee United: Tannadice men show blond ambition

IF there was a manual for How To Negotiate Tricky-Looking Away Cup Ties When You Are The Overwhelming Favourites, Dundee United’s merciless axing of Airdrie from the Scottish Cup yesterday would be worthy of a chapter.

In the beginning, the Tayside club settled themselves and claimed an early lead. In the middle they put the tie beyond any doubt with three more goals, and in the end, or six minutes before it, Johnny Russell could complete a hat-trick and still leave time for Ryan Donnelly to score twice to make it 24 goals in 25 games and reward the smattering of home supporters who didn’t desert their team at 6-0.

The second-half goal burst was just as United manager Peter Houston ordered. “I said to Johnny before the game that, without being disrespectful to our opponents, that it was a game like this he should be looking to score a hat-trick,” the United manager said. “He is getting the ball signed. No one’s told him yet Airdrie want it back.”

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For his triple across a 24-minute spell Russell almost lifted the net for its mooring with an almighty biff from 20 yards for his team’s third, then netted with a diving header shortly afterwards then he slammed in a low shot after a bit of penalty box ping-pong to bring up his third and United’s sixth.

Inbetween times, Gary Mackay-Steven finished from a tight angle to make it 5-0. Russell’s efforts had his manager once more making comparisons with David Goodwillie, the key scorer in the club’s run to 2010 Scottish Cup success and a striker for whom the club banked £2.2m from Blackburn Rovers last summer. “In 18 months’ time he could be a Goodwillie; that is a player we are struggling to hold on to,” Houston said. “He has a bit to go to get to that stage, quite a bit, but if he continues to develop at the rate he is doing just now he could get there.”

The United manager felt his side were flattered by their 2-0 half-time lead which came at the end of a first period when Airdrie competed and had a couple of good openings. Jamie Stevenson hit the bar from the first and then squandered a glorious second opportunity with his side only 1-0 down. These proved the diamonds in the dirt. “We were clinical and scored every time we went up the park,” said Houston. In doing so, United soon exerted the level of control befitting their status as a side operating two tiers above hosts currently pushing up the Second Division. Indeed, there was precedent for the straightforward nature of yesterday’s assignment for the Tayside club. Their League Cup win at the same ground was, by all accounts, also a breeze even if, in ending 2-0, it did not deliver the same lop-sided scoreline.

There was, however, no precedent in respect of the opening goal that set the visitors on their way to, no doubts, a few satisfying post-match beers at New Broomfield. They would have ordered up Double Diamond beer in a bygone age. John Rankin’s toast would be over his first goal since his move to United last summer. Picked out by Mackay-Steven bursting through the left channel, the midfielder jinked inside before planting his shot in the far corner.

United’s second, two minutes from the interval, was engineered by another quick break down the left with a Mackay-Steven cross in for Russell to tee-up Scott Robertson, who side-footed a curling effort into the far corner.

“I was really pleased with our first half but I thought their midfielders Rankin and Robertson were excellent, and go forward at pace,” Airdrie manager Jimmy Boyle said. “Our guys lost them at the first two goals and were disappointed. If we had scored in the first half it might have been different but by the end it could have been more than six. We fell away but I am a big fan of United, they are a quality side.”