Dunfermline 1 - 1 Dundee United: United progress to semi final

It's only November but Dunfermline must already have had enough of playing Dundee United. This was the fourth meeting of the two this season '“ the second within five days '“ and the Tannadice men have won the lot. A Mark Durnan goal after just eight minutes was enough to settle this one and take United into the semi-finals of the Irn-Bru Cup in an encounter which underlined the starkly contrasting fortunes of the two sides at the moment.

Dundee United's Mark Durnan, centre, scored the only goal of the match in his side's victory over Dunfermline. Picture: Craig Foy/SNS

Despite making eight changes to his starting XI from the midweek game between the pair, United manager Ray McKinnon could reflect on his men repeating the scoreline and ringing up their ninth game without loss in all competitions. They didn’t have to look too awe-inspiring to overcome a Dunfermline side that once again had a player sent off and for whom carving out positive results is proving fiendishly hard work.

“In view of the changes we made, to get the same result as we did on Tuesday against virtually the same team – I’ve got to be pleased with that,” insisted McKinnon. “We were a bit wasteful at times, but ultimately we’re in the semi-final and there’s eight players who either haven’t been in the team or are young kids, so there’s lots to be positive about.”

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In need of some kind of pick-me-up after their previous reverses against the same opponents, things couldn’t have started much worse for Dunfermline. Caught dozing as the visitors took a short corner, they then made a hash of trying to clear up the mess and Durnan whacked home a loose ball from the edge of the six-yard box.

For United it seemed all too easy and they knocked the ball with a detectable sense of nonchalance. Some credit was due to the hosts for eventually picking themselves up off the canvas and starting to probe towards finding a way back into the game, but the mercurial Kallum Higginbotham apart, they sorely lacked the craft or guile to open up the well-drilled visitors’ rearguard.

Blair Spittal nearly doubled United’s advantage after the interval as he burst clear only to see his shot blocked by the legs of Sean Murdoch. A couple of minutes later he was set up to test the Dunfermline ‘keeper again, before Lewis Martin tugged him back and with it being a clear scoring opportunity, referee Willie Collum showed the home defender a red card.

Murdoch had to pull off a couple of fine blocks to deny Durnan and then substitute Ali Coote while, at the other end, a decent appeal for a penalty when Faird El Alagui was tugged to the ground by Coll Donaldson was waved away by Collum and book-ended a thoroughly exasperating 90 minutes for the Dunfermline fans.