NEW management, same old result. How Dundee United must dread the sinking feeling that seems to flow down the River Tay every time they go head to head with their near neighbours from Perth.
This was St Johnstone’s eighth win in the last 11 derbies between these two sides and yesterday’s scoreline was identical to when they last met, a result which led to Jackie McNamara being relieved of his managerial duties at Tannadice.
As with that fateful meeting in September, United took the lead but once again just couldn’t hold out, crucially conceding two quick goals just before half-time.
On the plus side, Mixu Paatelainen definitely has got his side showing a deal more fight and organisation on the evidence we saw here. The big debit is that it was yet another defeat and, coupled with what happened elsewhere, they are now further mired at the foot of the Premiership.
“It was a better performance,” acknowledged Paatelainen, “this is the way forward. It’s obviously not enough, because we lost the game.
“We defended really poorly for the two goals they scored and that’s the reason we are where we are. We can’t be too happy but we are encouraged by the passing and good movement we showed in attacking play.”
For 43 minutes it actually looked really, really encouraging for United. They looked hungry, cohesive and a genuine threat when pushing forward. They zipped the ball around, Ryan McGowan motored up and down the right flank and Billy Mckay darted this way and that looking for a sniff of a chance.
After McGowan and the re-signed Gavin Gunning had flashed shots just wide of the target, United were rewarded for their enterprise when McGowan played a defence splitting one-two with Charlie Telfer and he crossed for Mckay to glance an exquisite header past Alan Mannus.
However there was then a foretaste of what was to come in that, having worked so hard to get their noses in front, the hosts so nearly found themselves pegged back level just a couple of minutes later, Saints captain Dave MacKay curling a 25-yard free-kick that smacked off the inside of the post but somehow stayed out.
Telfer and Mckay then had decent openings to give United a two-goal advantage and to say they were to regret such profligacy would be a huge understatement. The roof fell in as, in the space of two minutes, they were first pegged back and then found themselves in arrears as first an unmarked Chris Kane bulleted home a David Wotherspoon corner and then Murray Davidson squeezed the ball over the line after a right stramash in the United box.
To be fair, the Tannadice men’s response in the second half was spirited enough but the pleasing fluency of their opening to the game was replaced by a ragged desperation which included a dubious looking penalty claim when McGowan fell over in the Saints box. All the nous of the Perth men that has carried them so far in recent seasons came to the fore and the only blot on another excellent afternoon’s work came when Steven MacLean missed a spot-kick after John Rankin’s clumsy challenge on Kane.
United clasped on to this reprieve and proceeded to throw the kitchen sink at the visitors but a stunning save from Mannus from a Blair Spittal drive apart they just didn’t have enough craft to salvage a point from a game that began so well for them.
“I thought they played very well and it was an excellent game”, reflected a content Tommy Wright. “It was important we got the equaliser quickly and then to get a second goal was a bonus. We probably should have had another goal so it made the last 10 minutes a bit nervy”.
With this their sixth consecutive away win equalling a club record, those nerves mutated into broad smiles pretty quickly on full-time.