SOMETIMES the statistics speak for themselves. The four-goal flailings show no sign of abating for Dundee United with yesterday, incredibly, the fifth consecutive game they have snaffled, at least, a scoring quartet.
SCORERS: Kilmarnock - Boyd 89; Dundee Utd - Watson 60, Armstrong 75, Gauld 77, Goodwillie 90
As soon as they went one up on the hour mark through Keith Watson the away supporters were chanting “we want four” and, within a minute of added time, David Goodwillie duly obliged.
Sometimes, though, the statistics don’t tell the whole story. For the first 70 minutes, Kilmarnock’s youngster Craig Slater was as impressive as any of the feted Tannadice prodigies. And, for almost 50 of those minutes, it was the home side who were deserving of the admiration for remaining stout despite being a man down as a result of Reuben Gabriel taking leave of his senses to attract a red card for two bookable offences in the space of four minutes.
The Nigerian’s dismissal made the outcome seem inevitable. But none of this is grudging towards Jackie McNamara’s side because, ultimately, their dynamism and deftness proved irresistible. These were key facets in their opener, a fine team goal.
The United manager extolled the “patience” demonstrated in the fact that David Graham held the ball in before picking out Stuart Armstrong on a run down the right, the midfielder then driving the ball across goal for Watson to force it in.
“The fact it was our right full-back putting the ball in showed the patience,” said McNamara. The United manager maintained he was never concerned about the time taken to break the home side down. “I am always confident we will score, whether that is the first minute or the last minute.”
His players patently share this belief, McNamara talking warmly of how “they just keep going” and their “enthusiasm for scoring goals.
Armstrong made it 2-0 in 74 minutes because he was bursting to burst in on goal, drilling down the left channel before waltzing past two Kilmarnock defenders and planting the ball in the far corner. Two minutes later, his interception of a pass resulted in him letting fly with a shot Craig Samson pushed away only as far as player of the moment Ryan Gauld, who knocked it in from eight yards for an early birthday goal, the attacker turning 18 this week. Kilmarnock keeper Samson, meanwhile, didn’t have any more fortune when he seemed impeded by Andrew Robertson when punching away a high ball in the closing seconds. The keeper did not have time to reposition himself before substitute David Goodwillie kept the scoring fours to the fore.
The intervention of Euan Norris in dismissing Gabriel, pictured, was the obvious post-match talking point on a day when a fine headed goal from Kris Boyd two minutes from time allowed him to overtake Henrik Larsson at the top of the list of SPL and SPFL scorers with 175. Boyd took no great pleasure in the landmark “it’s fine, fair enough on a personal level, but we’ve lost” and didn’t seek to absolve Gabriel for his part in it. “It was three fouls and two bookings so it probably was a red card, by the rules”.
An utterly needless one, though. In 18 minutes, Gabriel picked up a first yellow for going straight through Armstrong, Norris signalling it was his second foul. What on earth the player was thinking about to then pull back Armstrong, cynically, as he was running through, only he will know.
“He was quick to get the cards out for our players,” said home manager Allan Johnston, who was later incensed when television footage had shown the referee to have wrongly adjudged a penalty box handball as “unintentional”.
“The second booking probably was one but I didn’t think the first was and a red card that early spoils the game for everyone. From that point credit to our players, it was a great effort. I can’t fault them for effort and in Slater we had a player who was fantastic and ran the game.”
It was a game that ran away from them, as so many do when the opponents are United, now firmly in third place and looking to push upwards.
Yet, Gary Mackay-Steven was honest in his assessment of the display they produced yesterday. “We weren’t at our best,” the United winger said. “We played well in patched but
Kilmarnock will feel the score is harsh on them and they defended well at times. I definitely feel there is much more to come from us, but we can’t look further forward than the Ross County game this week.”
For the Highland club, whose fortunes have been plummeting in recent months, losing only four goals against United at Tannadice next week might be an outcome to generate relief. The scoring mania of McNamara’s young musketeers is turning into the most fascinating tale of the season.