How Dundee United produced a famous Tannadice night to defeat AZ Alkmaar

It was always going to take some time for Dundee United to feel their way back into competitive European action after a decade’s exile. But the once perennial European participants eventually got back into the groove in some style.

Glenn Middleton evoked Eamonn Bannon’s wing play on some memorable European nights in the 1980s as he made his mark in a tangerine shirt after combining with fellow new boy Jamie McGrath for the game's 61st minute winner.

The winger distinguished his home – and full – debut with a brilliant intervention, cutting in from the right and taking two Dutch defenders out of the game in the process on way to scoring with a sumptuous curling effort into the corner.

McGrath’s contribution was pivotal. The midfielder had only been on the pitch a matter of a couple of minutes on his first United outing since signing on loan from Wigan Athletic on the eve of the fixture. His flick back into the path of his teammate was inspired and Middleton applied the finish beyond Hobie Verhulst.

Glenn Middleton curls the ball home to make it 1-0 to Dundee United against AZ Alkmaar.

The winger, a surprise signing from Rangers last week, had been otherwise quiet and was replaced shortly afterwards but he burst into life to give United every chance of progressing to the Conference League play-off round.

The hosts sought to make themselves even more at home by presenting legendary former player David Narey with a salver to recognise his status as United’s most experienced European campaigner before kick off.

The classy centre half joined former teammate Brian Welsh and United owner Mark Ogren on the pitch.

It was a nod to United’s European heritage, certainly in the case of Narey, who although a regular Tannadice attendee tends to keep a low profile.

Middleton celebrates his goal in front of a raucous Tannadice.

His appearance helped increase the decibel level inside the stadium, which had been high in any case. It was rare to see someone not sporting tangerine in the streets around Tannadice pre-match. Police on horseback also helped identify this as a significant fixture and one with the potential for trouble.

That did not turn out to be case thankfully – memories of a particularly menacing night against Slask Wroclaw 11 years ago remain vivid – but it did get tasty at times on the pitch.

Steven Fletcher might have seen red for an elbow in the face of Sam Beukema just after the half hour mark. Referee Vitor Ferreira opted for yellow instead and United were able to continue building into the tie with the full complement of players – with Fletcher increasingly influential.

They had already steadied the ship after the visitors exhibited their obvious qualities with some ominous spells of possession football. However, AZ failed to hurt United. Dani de Wit and Vangelis Pavlidis managed to get in each other’s way as they attempted to take advantage of a chance presented by goalkeeper Mark Birighitti’s poor kick.

Craig Sibbald responded for the home team. His strong effort from just inside the box was beaten away by Verhulst.

The hard-to-handle Tony Watt drew a foul – penalised with a booking – from Pantelis Hatzidiakos.

The momentum was certainly shifting, although the opponents could not be discounted. Pavlidis flashed a shot across the face of the goal early in the second half.

But the Dutch were disappointing in the final analysis and while they must feel confident in their ability to turn the tie around, United will relish starting next week’s second leg ahead in the tie.