Dundee United defeated St Mirren for the second time at home this season and this victory, while offering much-needed cheer for the long suffering home fans, will also frustrate them. For it showed what their players are capable of and what they have failed to do too often this season.
It was still a nervous night at Tannadice for these supporters following Billy King’s early goal. With Morton winning against Dumbarton, a late goal by St Mirren would have consigned United to the dreaded fifth spot.
The visitors sent on striker after striker in the search for the elusive goal that would seal a triumphant season under Jack Ross. John Sutton, a 75th minute substitute, came closest as time ticked on with a poked effort that United goalkeeper Deniz Mehmet did well to block.
St Mirren needed a point to emulate Alex Ferguson’s side of 1977 by winning what was then the First Division title in Dundee. Fergie’s Furies clinched the championship with a 4-0 win over Dundee at Dens Park on that occasion. They fell a long way short of such an irrepressible performance across the road at Tannadice last night.
“We have five more opportunities to get the point to win the league,” said Ross afterwards. “That’s not bad.”
There were some heated scenes at the end between the two sets of coaching teams. United manager Csaba Laszlo became embroiled in a spat with St Mirren goalkeeper coach Jamie Langfield.
“He [Laszlo] said something I felt was not appropriate to one of my members of staff,” explained Ross. “It was not my cup of tea.” Laszlo denied this and suggested the St Mirren manager should look closer to home for the aggressor.
The away fans did not seem too perturbed at having their wings slightly clipped. They know the title will come eventually, perhaps against Livingston in Paisley on Saturday in front of a full house. “Hands up if you’re top of the league” they chorused at the end.
But United will rightly take plenty of succour from a gritty, resolute display. Their much-maligned defence, including Bilel Mohsni, coped well with the late barrage. Two clean sheets in seven days do bookend a 3-2 defeat by Dumbarton, but United remain fourth and trail Dunfermline above them only on goal difference and having played a game fewer.
This was a brutally physical encounter, perhaps at United manager Laszlo’s insistence. There were four bookings in the first half – three for United. The home fans were understandably not terribly keen to come out and see a potential title-winning party unfold for the visitors.
But those who were brave enough to put their faith in players who have let them down too often in recent weeks were rewarded by a more committed United performance. Some challenges might have been wince-inducing – Thomas Mikkelsen, Paul McMullan and Mark Durnan were all booked for late challenges in the opening half. McMullan was particularly late on Liam Smith.
But there was no little skill on show too and this was evident as early as the second minute when United took the lead through King. Paul McMullan took the ball down the left and crossed towards the back post. Mikkelsen failed to capitalise but the St Mirren defence made a meal of clearing. King took advantage to drive the ball into the other corner past Craig Samson.
St Mirren replied with vigour but failed to string together any moves of real consequence. Adam Eckersley did see a drive from the left kiss Mehmet’s crossbar. The United keeper also relied on his bar to stop Danny Mullen’s drive.
In the second half it was United who came closest to scoring again when McMullan squeezed the ball through to Sam Stanton, whose shot was well saved by Samson.