Dundee United's mood darkens after surprise Morton defeat as Jim Goodwin cries foul over big refereeing calls

Championship title favourites fail to take advantage of Raith’s defeat at Airdrieonians

By George, this was quite the match at Tannadice as title-chasing Dundee United slipped up in calamitous fashion in the cinch Championship at home to Morton.

The Greenock outfit, now undefeated in seven matches, rocked up at Tannadice and went into a 2-0 lead by 36 minutes thanks to two goals from George Oakley. It was 2-2 by the interval, however, and United were heavy favourites to go on and win but stalled in a scrappy second half, had Craig Sibbald sent off on 87 minutes and two minutes later, Oakley completed his hat-trick with a sumptuous strike. The home fans in the Eddie Thompson didn’t take it well at full time, screaming at the victorious Morton players as they came off the pitch. This was a defeat that hurt.

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"We didn’t show enough aggression, we didn’t cope with Oakley well enough and he was the difference. As good as we’ve been defensively, that’s as poor as we’ve been all season,” said Goodwin, who believed his team were denied a blatant penalty on 69 minutes when Kirk Broadfoot tangled with Kevin Holt in the penalty box. “A real frustration in this league is the lack highlights package so people will just need to take my word for it; the incident where Broadfoot hauls Holt to the floor at the corner kick is a blatant penalty. How that decision can go against us is incredible. Had there been VAR then I’ve absolutely no doubt in my mind that the decision would have been overturned and given us the opportunity to go 3-2 in front.”

George Oakley scored a hat-trick in Morton's 3-2 win over Dundee United.George Oakley scored a hat-trick in Morton's 3-2 win over Dundee United.
George Oakley scored a hat-trick in Morton's 3-2 win over Dundee United.

At least second-placed United didn’t lose any ground in the title race. Leaders Raith lost for only the second time this season, 1-0 away at Airdrieonians, and therefore remain three points clear of the Tangerines having played a game more. But the day belonged to Oakley, the 28-year-old target man from Wandsworth who scored the perfect hat-trick: a glancing header, a poked right-footed finish and then a piledriver with his left foot that crashed in off the post to send the 313 travelling fans behind the goal wild. It was the second perfect hat-trick in seven days for Morton, as Robbie Muirhead did the same in beating Ayr. Dougie Imrie’s team is in a rich vein of form and are now up to fifth, two points away from the play-offs.

"I must be doing something right with the shooting in training,” smiled Imrie afterwards. “Two back-to-back hat-tricks from two different strikers but the most important thing was the three points. It keeps the run going, we are in the right groove. I'm really proud of the boys, they went through a really tough period and it was looking grim, but since December it's been one-way traffic. It's nothing to do with me, they are the ones that cross the white line. They give me everything. George's last goal is unbelievable, fit to win any game.”

The mood in the United camp was darker. While the title race still has many twists and turns in it, there are reasons for Dundee United to be slightly concerned. Captain and midfield linchpin Ross Docherty’s absence continues to be clearly felt. He is the backbone of the team and uses the ball far more diligently than Jordan Tillson and Craig Sibbald. Declan Gallagher failed to make it due to a groin injury and young Ross Graham took his place in the centre of defence. A left-footer, he looked uncomfortable on the right side and Oakley picked on him throughout. Gallagher’s organisation was missed. Striker Lewis Moult came off at the interval with a hamstring complaint and United didn’t carry the same threat in attack thereafter.

Oakley’s opener, on 25 minutes, came when he headed home a Michael Garrity delivery before doubling the advantage 11 minutes later, getting in front of Graham to convert a Lewis Strapp cross. United, to their credit, rallied swiftly. Kai Fotheringham directed a pinpoint Liam Grimshaw cross home with his head on 38 minutes and with Morton desperately needing the half-time whistle, the hosts levelled on 45 minutes. Tony Watt surged down the right and stood a fine cross up for Moult to score from close range.

The dejected Dundee United players trudge off a full time.The dejected Dundee United players trudge off a full time.
The dejected Dundee United players trudge off a full time.

United failed to take advantage of the momentum and the whole affair became a tousy foul-fest as referee Iain Snedden cautioned seven players and then sent off Sibbald for a second booking. Goodwin also contested that decision – “our analyst has slowed that down and Sibbs has clearly won the ball” – but draw looked nap at that point until a long ball on 89 minutes from goalkeeper Ryan Mullen was not dealt with by Kevin Holt and Oakley swivelled before belting home via the post for his first-ever senior hat-trick.