Dundee United 1 - 2 Hamilton: United’s woes continue

If the alarm bells weren’t already ringing, they are surely now reverberating around Tannadice.

Ziggy Gordon (left) races off to celebrate after scoring to give Hamilton a 2-1 lead. Picture: SNS

This latest defeat plunged Dundee United further into the relegation mire and prompted Mixu Paatelainen, their manager, to admit they’ve reached crisis point.

Like last weekend when they took the lead against St Johnstone, Paatelainen’s United side once more contrived to throw it all away and, as a consequence, find themselves seven points adrift of second-bottom Motherwell and, perhaps even more worryingly, eight behind next weekend’s opponents Kilmarnock, whom they face at Rugby Park.

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Billy McKay again got on the scoresheet, as he did seven days earlier, but the home team’s fragility was cruelly exposed when Gavin Gunning’s 70th-minute own goal saw them start to crumble, before Ziggy Gordon’s 79th-minute winner meant they were made to pay for squandering a series of earlier opportunities which could easily have ensured victory.

Paatelainen, who faces a bigger job than he first imagined on replacing Jackie McNamara in October, admitted afterwards that “crisis” isn’t too strong a word to describe their current plight. “I don’t think it is,” said the frustrated Finn.

“We’re not winning matches. We’re losing matches and even draws are valuable when you look at where we are in the league table.

“It looks like as soon as the opponents score one goal, the bottom goes out of us.

“We are an easy target after that. Simply, we need stronger characters and make sure everybody lifts each other.”

Paatelainen added: “I must say we should have put the game to bed long before that. We had chance after chance to do so.

“It wasn’t just shots at goal. It was one-on-one situations with their goalkeeper. So our strikers must look in the mirror and realise they should have scored more goals.

“When you have the game under control like we did in the first half, you must win it.

“That’s the reason why we are where we are in the league table. We are not strong enough.

“You can never legislate for an own goal. It’s quite unbelievable how that can happen. He [Gunning] attacks the ball but somehow directs it into our own net. I don’t know why.

“There is determination there but the minute you give the opposition a sniff you get punished.”

Hamilton threatened first when, midway through the first half, Gramoz Kurtaj slid a pass through to Carlton Morris.

Morris carved out space before angling a left-foot shot towards the far corner of Michal Szromnik’s goal, only to see it flash inches wide.

But United took the lead in some style in 29 minutes. John Souttar, their cultured midfielder, sliced open the visiting defence with the most weighted of passes.

On the turn, McKay steadied himself and angled a shot past Michael McGovern, who went on to enjoy an outstanding afternoon in the visitors’ goal, from ten yards.

They threatened again in 32 minutes as McKay was the provider by setting Blair Spittal free as McGovern advanced off his line.

It looked likely the hosts would add to their lead, but Spittal’s finish lacked conviction and McGovern did well to block.

Then, in 42 minutes, United ought to have gone further ahead. Spittal sent John Rankin through on goal, but his toe-poke didn’t have enough purchase to find a way past agile McGovern.

The pattern remained much the same after the break. Paul Dixon, just after the hour mark, worked a slick one-two with Charlie Telfer but his return shot went well wide.

If there was another goal coming, United looked far more likely to grab it and should have done so in 65 minutes.

Spittal released McKay who had only McGovern to beat, but his effort was superbly saved and they were soon made to regret that miss.

From Ali Crawford’s corner, Lucas Tagliapietra attacked the ball at the near post, only to be beaten to it by Gunning, who had the misfortune of heading it into his own net. It’s the kind of thing that happens to teams struggling at the foot of the table.

Worse was to follow for the hosts in 79 minutes. As the United defence backed off, Crawford’s initial shot was blocked.

But full-back Gordon was on hand to steer his left-foot finish, from ten yards, low past the despairing Szromnik, for his first goal of the season.

Hamilton’s first win in seven games propelled them into fifth position in the table, a somewhat timely boost ahead of their trip to take on Celtic at Parkhead next weekend.

“We’ve played better in games and not won,” said manager Martin ­Canning afterwards.

“I didn’t think we battled hard enough in the first half and they out-fought us.

“I had a wee go at a few of them at half-time and thought we got a reaction.”