Dundee United - 2
Ciftci 19; Erskine 87
Ross County - 1
United may feel justified in thinking that they earned this one based on greater possession and attacking intent but, with the scoreline level in a vastly more entertaining second half, the Highlanders missed two really decent chances and then, right at the end, a poor clearance by goalkeeper Antonio Reguero presented Chris Erskine and the hosts with the winner.
In terms of spirit, the Dingwall side will feel a whole lot better about themselves, but there will be a gnawing anxiety that they are showing the classic symptoms of a side in real trouble – ie, even when they play better, the results don’t go their way. If they’re going to break the cycle they need positive thinking and there was plenty of that from manager Derek Adams afterwards.
“We played really well in spells today. Performance-wise the way we took the game to United in the second half shows we’ve got players who can be a threat going forward,” he insisted. Whilst acknowledging the individual errors that had cost his side dearly he added that “it wasn’t the end of the world and we just move on to next week’s games”.
After their hammering at Celtic Park in their last outing, a victory of any kind, no matter what breaks came their way, was all United were looking for yesterday and they got off to the ideal start thanks to County’s nervous-looking defence that gave away another cheap goal. An angled free-kick from Paul Paton was floated across the County box and, somehow, the visitors didn’t pick up the not inconspicuous presence of Nadir Ciftci, and the Turkish striker helped himself to his first goal of the new campaign with a nicely cushioned header.
It was pretty deflating to find themselves in arrears and the Highlanders’ heads could have dropped still further shortly afterwards as Ciftci smacked a decent effort goalwards which Reguero did well to push away to safety. An unwillingness to really impose themselves at this stage was to cause the Tannadice men some later grief, however, as County were able to regroup.
Adams’ men summoned up one bright moment in what was an otherwise insipid opening 45 minutes from a fine driving run by Graham Carey which was only halted by a mistimed challenge by Callum Morris. The winger must nevertheless have drawn confidence from the palpable unease he had caused the United rearguard and he bettered it just after the interval.
The hosts had actually made a bright start to the second half and were probing away in search of another goal when a Ciftci shot was blocked and rolled into the path of Carey well inside his own half. He surged upfield and exchanged passes with Joe Cardle before crossing for Jake Jervis to side-foot home a simple equaliser.
“I was disappointed with the goal,” confessed United manager Jackie McNamara. “I thought we were a bit gung-ho at that point.”
It was indeed now United’s turn to remind us of their own defensive frailties – not only was Jervis completely unmarked for his strike, but moments later the resurgent County should actually have gone in front. Cardle sent a cross over to the far post and Yoann Arquin ought to have buried it but instead sent his header wide. Although the Tannadice men stepped up a gear as they sought to regain the lead, they were now faced by a County defence that had the bit between its collective teeth. It wasn’t always pretty, but it was effective as they fought in determined fashion to clear their lines.
Ciftci, Mario Bilate and Ryan Dow all saw efforts blocked as bodies were hurled in the way. Every now and then amidst this testing examination the visitors broke away, looking to claw themselves a precious victory. Carey yet again tore his way down the flank and Jervis scorned another gilt-edged opportunity.
The cruellest twist was yet to come for the visitors though. Reguero had made an important contribution to County’s resistance but with the minutes counting down he didn’t connect properly with a Gary Mackay-Steven corner and Erskine had time to steady himself before giving them that awful sinking feeling yet again.
“I’m delighted for Chris to score the winner,” remarked a happy McNamara. “His attitude’s been first class.”