Dundee United prevail in Scotland's match of day amid 12 yellow cards and a thrown bottle - who says Jim Goodwin doesn't win big games?

Dundee United emerge deserved 2-0 victors against Raith Rovers in battle between first and second and extend lead at top of the Championship

Who says Jim Goodwin doesn't win big games? Well, he put that accusation to bed here, in one of the most significant matches Dundee United have played in recent – and not so recent – times.

Forty years ago, the Tannadice club’s hopes of retaining the Scottish league title remained firmly intact as their attention turned towards a European Cup semi-final against AS Roma. Paul Hegarty, Maurice Malpas and John Holt, three members of that celebrated squad, were looking on here as the Tannadice side contested an arguably bigger game in terms of what it meant for the club’s financial welfare. Another season in the Championship could not be borne and might not have to be now as United prevailed on this fraught occasion thanks to Tony Watt’s well-worked opener and Louis Moult’s decisive penalty with 15 minutes left.

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Jostling between players and opposition manager might have been missing, so too were middle-finger gestures. Rome’s Olympic stadium will remain the benchmark for all that kind of stuff. This did get somewhat spicy at times, as 12 bookings might attest, although several of them were the result of over-fussy refereeing from Nick Walsh, who never really got a grip of the game and seemed to forget there was no VAR at this level. For example, the way he rushed to judgement at the penalty award was as if he believed he had the safety blanket of a review in a room somewhere off the M8 available to him.

Dundee United's Tony Watt picks up a glass bottle thrown by an away fan after his first goal in the 2-0 win over Raith Rovers   (Photo by Ewan Bootman / SNS Group)Dundee United's Tony Watt picks up a glass bottle thrown by an away fan after his first goal in the 2-0 win over Raith Rovers   (Photo by Ewan Bootman / SNS Group)
Dundee United's Tony Watt picks up a glass bottle thrown by an away fan after his first goal in the 2-0 win over Raith Rovers (Photo by Ewan Bootman / SNS Group)

Not down here, pal. The decision had to stand, soft or otherwise. Moult won and converted the award, with former United defender Keith Watson deemed to have bumped into him from behind. It was a big call, not only in reference to these 90 minutes but also the entire title race.

The yellow-card count included one for visiting manager Ian Murray, who made his feelings clear with regards to the penalty but, he later asserted, without using foul or abusive language. “They’ve got so much power just to run over and brandish this card at you,” he complained. “They don’t give you an explanation.

“I didn’t swear, I wasn’t shouting. All I said was it was a really bad decision. If that’s a yellow card offence then it’s sucking the life out of the game at the moment. It’s killing us all because it’s becoming boring.

“It’s becoming a non-contact sport, fans are getting fed up, players are getting fed up, I’m getting fed up with it. In a game like today, the two top teams in the league, in a great atmosphere and two teams trying to win a league and going at each other, you just think, ‘come on’.”

Referee Nick Walsh awards a penalty to Dundee United.Referee Nick Walsh awards a penalty to Dundee United.
Referee Nick Walsh awards a penalty to Dundee United.

Scotland’s game of the day wasn't the country's most free flowing, that’s for sure. A ticket row in the days leading up to the clash – United cut Rovers' previous allocation – added to the interest surrounding the fixture and perhaps accounted for some of the ill-feeling evident. Every few minutes it seemed Walsh was stopping the game, often due to head knocks after rumbustious aerial challenges. Indeed, visiting defender Euan Murray was eventually forced off after one. He did try to play on, perhaps a little unwisely, before being escorted to the side of the pitch after 25 minutes while retching and having collapsed to the turf again.

United had the so-called comfort of playing at home, although some wondered whether that might prove a hindrance if they struggled to break their title rivals down and fans’ already brittle patience snapped. Happily for the hosts, this didn’t happen. The home supporters in the 10,333 crowd offered stout backing even if there was a bit of concern in the opening minutes, when the visitors laid siege on the home goal. Jack Walton had to claw away a Euan Murray header from the line. His manager gave the ‘keeper a thumbs-up sign from the dugout.

The United player certainly kept their side of the bargain by securing the three points that grants them some breathing space as the title run-in enters its final lap. Although Rovers still have a game in hand, they now trail United by four points after losing to them for the first time this season. Murray believes his side now need to win four of their last six games, with three of them, all at home, coming in seven days starting next Saturday against Ayr United.

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Nothing is of course settled yet but United deserved these three points though they were grateful for the generous penalty award. The longer their lead remained at one-goal, which it had done since as early as the 8th minute, when Watt poked United ahead, the more nerviness seemed to creep back into the home ranks. They survived one near thing when Zak Rudden’s slightly speculative shot from 22 yards struck the top of the bar. The chance to score from 12 yards was therefore eagerly accepted and then despatched with zest by Moult, who led the line superbly.

This was a big win for Dundee United manager Jim Goodwin.This was a big win for Dundee United manager Jim Goodwin.
This was a big win for Dundee United manager Jim Goodwin.

He was aided and abetted by Watt, who used all his wiles to make a significant impact on the 90 minutes. The Rovers fans, housed in the old Shed end, watched in horror as Watt cleverly put the hosts ahead beneath their noses after he controlled Moult’s headed flick-on. They hadn’t participated in a scramble for tickets for this. Some of the 1,333 present took their frustration too far and threw objects, including a glass bottle, onto the pitch as Watt celebrated.

Walsh retrieved the items and placed them at the side of the pitch. It’s all getting very emotional at the top and people are doing things they will likely later regret. Goodwin was just happy his team finished with all 11 men on the pitch, given what was at stake combined with a card-happy referee.

“We spoke about that at half-time and, in games like this where there is so much riding on it, you are always worried about the emotion overtaking decision making,” he said. “But I trust my players to make good decisions.”



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