Robbie Neilson watched his Dundee United title hopefuls return to winning ways against ten-man Falkirk before challenging them to show they mean business in the weeks ahead.
The Tayside club ended a three-game winless streak courtesy of Sam Stanton’s 22nd minute opener before Pavol Safranko doubled their lead early in the second half.
Former United favourite Paul Paton was sent off in 64 minutes for head-butting Safranko, although Ray McKinnon’s side did give themselves a late lifeline through Aaron Muirhead’s 92nd minute penalty.
Neilson’s men, though, held on for a valuable three points and the former Hearts and MK Dons manager called on his players continue this form over the crucial festive period as they seek to close the four-point gap on new Championship leaders Ross County.
“It’s massive to get back to winning ways,” said Neilson. “I thought we were very much in control although we made it difficult for ourselves. But come the end of the season, if we achieve what we want to achieve then nobody will be too bothered. Now we want to build some momentum again when we face Alloa and then Partick Thistle over the next wee while.”
It was a brisk start from both sides who were desperate for different reasons to head into Christmas with a win under their belts. United’s last home outing had ended in a horror 5-0 defeat by title rivals Ayr United, so knew they had to make it up to their fans and Frederic Frans’ fifth minute header from a Fraser Aird corner fizzed just past the post
They did take the lead midway through the first half thanks to a slice of good fortune. Stanton picked up possession 20 yards from goal and had nothing else on his mind but letting fly. The former Hibs midfielder unleashed his left-foot effort which took a deflection off Muirhead to leave visiting keeper David Mitchell wrong-footed. Then, in 41 minutes, Rachid Bouhenna’s 14-yard volley looked net-bound until Mitchell tipped it onto the bar.
The second half started much the same with the hosts on top, and Safranko struck with a textbook header in 53 minutes from Aird’s corner which nestled in the far corner.
Paton then walked for a straight red-card after head-butting Safranko during a flare-up which saw the Slovakian striker receive a yellow card.
Falkirk pulled one back deep in injury-time when sub Dennon Lewis was brought down by United substitute Watson, and Murihead made no mistake with the resultant spot-kick.
“We can take great hope from the spirit we showed going down to ten men,” McKinnon said.