In an initially tense night on Tayside which included Inverness manager John Robertson being sent to the stand, Dundee United benefited from a questionable penalty decision to book their place in the Premiership play-off final.
Two further goals in the second half meant United were able to play out the tie by tormenting their demoralised opponents as their fans sang songs about relegated Dundee and contemplated who they might face in the two-legged final next week.
St Mirren manager Oran Kearney and Hamilton Accies’ Brian Rice, one of whose teams will meet United in that final, both sat in the stand. Their fate will become clear later today.
Kearney was presumably staying overnight in Dundee since his side line up across the road at Dens Park. Dundee United could yet pass Dundee on their way down in the Tannadice club’s third attempt to secure promotion.
Nicky Clark converted a penalty in first-half injury time with a composure that was otherwise mostly absent from both teams on a night of such high stakes. He himself later fell victim to the jitters when missing an open goal after 68 minutes. The striker somehow hit the post from around four yards after a mix-up between Brad McKay, who was penalised for handball in the earlier penalty incident, and keeper Mark Ridgers. But United were already in the driving seat.
Robertson watched from the Jerry Kerr stand as Osman Sow put United in command of the tie nine minutes after half-time. The Inverness boss was sent off at half-time for, as he put it “flicking” a water bottle at fourth official David Lowe.
Robertson will rue his side’s failure to take advantage of a first half that contained a sting in its tail as far as the Highlanders were concerned. Inverness had dominated and looked on course to peg back United’s first-leg lead. One worry was the failure to take several chances they created. Another was then seeing the deficit they were trying to retrieve doubled as United put together one of their first flowing moves of the match.
Ian Harkes crossed for Clark, pictured, who set up Peter Pawlett. His shot was blocked by McKay but the ball then hit his hand after striking his leg. Clark sent Mark Ridgers the wrong way from the penalty spot in first-half injury time.
United keeper Benjamin Siegrist had earlier kept the scoreline level with a fine save low to his right-hand side from a deflected Tom Walsh shot. Jordan White should have scored with a free header from Joseph Chalmers’ corner and skipper Aaron Doran failed in his attempt to round Siegrist after a long ball from McKay.
On a night when they could ill afford one slip, Inverness could certainly have done without the harsh judgment that McKay could do anything about a ball that flicked up off his leg and hit his hand. No wonder Robertson was livid. But the manager could have few complaints about a second half in which the hosts, perhaps sensing deflation in the Inverness ranks, took a grip of the tie. In a reversal of what happened in the first half, United were the ones passing up chances. But they were not costly misses since Sow had already put United two up on the night and three up on aggregate nine minutes after half-time.
Paul McMullan showed admirable tenacity on the right and stabbed a cross to the edge of the six-yard box. Sow held off Coll Donaldson before turning to score with a left-foot shot. Donaldson endured a miserable evening. The former United defender was a target for the boo boys during his time at Tannadice and the home faithful enjoyed watching his struggles last night.
Substitutes Sam Stanton and Pavol Safranko combined with ten minutes left to give the scoreline a comprehensive look.
Stanton’s clever reverse pass allowed Safranko to draw Ridgers out before slipping the ball beyond him. The celebrations had already begun in the stands but this rounded things off nicely as United wait to find out who they will host in Thursday night’s first leg.