First half strikes from Steven Fletcher and Ian Harkes provided some much-needed cheer for their fans and some respite for sporting director Tony Asghar.
There was some pressure applied in the closing stages after substitute Kurtis Guthrie bundled home a goal after Christain Montano’s knock-down. Livingston threatened a comeback. Indeed, referee David Munro denied them the chance to complete it – only awarding a free kick outside the box after Nicky Devlin was tripped a yard inside the area by Aziz Behich.
Defender Sean Kelly came close to scoring in any case and hit the post with a fine effort. United survived this further test of their mettle to reach the last eight.
What do you do when you’ve conceded 23 goals in your previous four matches? You recall your most experienced defender in Charlie Mulgrew and hand experienced left-back Behich another chance to underline why he was brought to the club this summer.
It does not require a manager to dream up such a seemingly simple strategy, which is just as well because United haven’t got one. Liam Fox has been handed the reins on a caretaker basis and passed his first examination with United's first win at the Tony Macaroni Arena since 2005.
Another big call was sticking with keeper Carljohan Eriksson following Sunday’s nine-goal thrashing by Celtic. Fox did not have many options with Australian international Mark Birighitti missing from the squad. He is understood to have suffered an injury following an inauspicious start to his Tannadice career.
The result did invite observers to wonder what might have happened had Jack Ross remained in charge. If he had been permitted the chance to earn such a confidence boosting victory, might he then have been able to salvage his Tannadice managerial career?
We will never know. The former Hibs manager was at home in Northumberland and no doubt feeling somewhat bruised. The score updates from the Tony Macaroni stadium may or may not have improved his mood. It might now appear that he was the problem after all but that would be a brutally reductive reading of the situation. Nevertheless, United head to Motherwell on Saturday in far better fettle than they could have imagined amid such turbulence. Livingston are now the ones in a spot of bother after a third successive loss.
Fletcher was the star man until he was subbed with five minutes left. He got things under way by poking United in front after 14 minutes after Ryan Edwards’ header from Jamie McGrath’s corner was brilliantly saved by Shamal George. The keeper was powerless to prevent the alert Fletcher netting the rebound. The away support of around 500 sensed a first domestic victory of the season. They had been hitherto sparing with their affections after such a trying few weeks. It was as if they were saying to the players: you got us into this mess, now get us out of it.
They demonstrated a desire and ability to do so and the fans duly responded. The supporters had found their voice by the time Harkes added a second goal after 33 minutes after a fine through ball from Fletcher. George’s indecision helped the American midfielder make up his own mind as he calmly lobbed the stranded goalie.