Title wins and losses always pivot on defining moments but Dundee United will be hopeful this was not one of them. Allowing victory to slip through their grasp late on, they also permitted Ross County to stretch their advantage at the top of the Championship.
The Tannadice outfit approached the match in fine fettle, having emerged victorious from their previous three outings, and would ordinarily have fancied their chances of stretching that winning run against the team second from bottom. Cammy Smith’s opening goal three minutes after the break, and Partick Thistle’s lead over Ross County, increased optimism in the Tangerine ranks.
However, Falkirk proved just why they had been undefeated in 2019 when they battled back to level with a Ciaran McKenna header with just six minutes remaining. County’s comeback to defeat Thistle compounded United’s disappointment and left them five points adrift at the summit.
“We’ve still got to play Ross County twice and Ayr and other teams have got to go to Falkirk and to difficult venues,” said United manager, Robbie Neilson, whose side now host Inverness Caledonian Thistle on Tuesday. “You just have to look at yourselves and keep getting points on the board and keep the run going.
Neilson, pictured, added: “There’s 11 games to go and nobody is taking 33 points, believe me. Nowhere near that is going to get you over the line and winning it. When you don’t take the three points you take one and you bounce back as quickly as possible.”
It was a match played at times at breakneck speed and United were also left to count the cost in casualties, with both Frederic Frans and his replacement, Rachid Bouhenna, carried off on a stretcher with injuries.
United almost took the lead as early as just the fifth minute, when Falkirk skipper Jordan McGhee nodded a Peter Pawlett corner against his own bar. However, the visitors found clear-cut opportunities hard to fashion and they had to wait until three minutes after half-time for the breakthrough. Jamie Robson found room on the left of the box and his low cross was hammered in by Smith.
Having failed to find a second goal, United remained vulnerable and paid the price when McKenna rose to meet Ian McShane’s late free-kick to stretch Falkirk’s undefeated sequence to six games and keep them off the bottom of the table.
“We’re unbeaten for two months and a lot of credit has got to go to the team and the players,” said manager Ray McKinnon. “We worked extremely hard.”