While the incident is bound to feature high in the most bizarre incidents of the campaign, Tannadice manager Mixu Paatelainen revealed the player’s actions had “little” to do with him being exiled from the first team.
The club released a statement on Tuesday saying Gunning had left the club “by mutual consent” but the player has now been told he can continue training with United if he so desires. The saga has threatened to upset the club’s preparations for Saturday’s Scottish Cup semi-final with Hibs, which were further hit yesterday with the news Paul Paton is a major doubt with a knee injury.
Describing the Gunning situation as “unfortunate”, Paatelainen said: “Things went on and obviously it is something we could not tolerate so I took the decision and told Gavin he would not play for us again. I also said to him if he wished he does not need to stay here.”
While accepting it was “one of the strangest” things he had seen on a football pitch, the manager said he “understood” why Gunning picked the ball up.
“He was injured, he wanted the game to be stopped,” he said. “He could not kick the ball because he got a knock on his leg.
“He wanted the game to be stopped instead of just going down and possibly Caley Thistle having an attack, so he decided to pick the ball up and stop the game doing that.”
It is believed that the player’s sarcastic reaction to furious fans after being substituted led to him being disciplined.
Amid reports Gunning is refusing to quit the club, Paatelainen conceded he could not stop the defender returning to train with his team-mates until the end of the season.
Paton, meanwhile, has been visiting specialists to reach a decision on the best course of action following the recurrence of a knee injury that sidelined him for ten months last year.