Scorer: Dundee United - Muirhead 13
Aberdeen ran out of steam trying to take their title fight that bit nearer the wire, but there was nothing like a sense of deflation following their admirable efforts.
Derek McInnes’ side were well aware anything less than a win would give Celtic their fourth successive title after they had comprehensively beaten Dundee the previous night. But a goal in 13 minutes from Robbie Muirhead was enough to hand Jackie McNamara’s men a valuable win which propelled them back into fourth position in the table as they breathed new life into their push for Europe.
While Aberdeen’s game against the champions at Pittodrie next Sunday was rendered meaningless, there was a strong pledge to return with renewed vigour in an attempt to challenge Celtic even more next season, having clinched the runners-up spot for this campaign.
“The challenge is to get closer to Celtic next year,” said McInnes. “That’s for everyone, not just us, but certainly from our point of view we want to keep improving.
“We are ten points better off than we were last season but even then we always knew Celtic would have to have a poor season.
“But we don’t accept it, we will roll our sleeves up and give a bit more next season.
“We have every reason to feel confident. A few will leave and a few will come in, but not too many changes will be required.
“We have a good mentality now, we have a big support following us and there’s a demand to win.
“That brings it’s own pressure and we have that within us at the minute. We want to build on that and try to push on.”
McInnes added: “We always felt Celtic would win the league and all we could do was determine when they won it.
“From their point of view, spending a couple of million quid in January certainly helped them.
“We congratulate them and they were always going to win it if they showed their true potential.”
This was only United’s fourth win in 14 games following some turbulent Tannadice times.
John Souttar, whose pin-point pass set up Muirhead for his first goal for the Arabs early on, has watched McNamara come in for flak on the back of a poor run of results which had threatened to derail their season altogether.
But he reckoned it was pay-back time for their manager. “I think all the boys felt we owed it to the gaffer,” said Souttar. “He has stuck by us over the past few months and we haven’t delivered for him but thankfully we did today.”
United went ahead on 13 minutes, and in some style. Souttar played a weighted pass forward from midfield which eluded Aberdeen defensive pair Shay Logan and Ash Taylor. That allowed Muirhead to run though and he wasted no time in firing a left-foot shot on the half-volley past goalkeeper Scott Brown.
Aberdeen ought to have equalised in 45 minutes. Logan’s cross was missed by Adam Rooney and fell for substitute Cammy Smith, but instead of levelling, he hit his shot straight at Ryan McGowan who was on hand to block.
Aberdeen came within inches of an equaliser in 84 minutes but Taylor couldn’t connect at the far post from Jonny Hayes’ free-kick.
United manager McNamara was full of praise for his players afterwards. “It’s a great three points,” he said.
“It was a great ball from John Souttar and he seems to be growing into that position.
“Robbie, too, can only get better so the future is bright.”
Dundee United: Cierzniak, Dixon, Souttar, Fojut, Ciftci, Rankin, Muirhead (Smith 79) Morris, McGowan, Telfer, Spittal (Connolly 46). Subs not used: Dillon, Szromnik, Anier, Spark, Coote.
Aberdeen: Brown, Logan, Considine (McLean 62) Taylor, Reynolds, Flood, Rooney, McGinn, Hayes, Pawlett (Smith 23) Jack (Goodwillie 62). Subs not used: Langfield, C Robertson, Shankland, Daniels.
Referee: J Beaton Surname. Attendance: 8,686.