It wasn’t pretty, it was a game of grinding attrition and it was won courtesy of a needlessly conceded penalty. But it was job done for Dundee United as they wrested another vital three points and closed the gap on Ross County and Ayr United at the summit of the Championship table.
The jury remains out on whether Robbie Neilson’s extensively recast squad is now the real deal in terms of grabbing that automatic promotion place. What is undeniable is that the soft centre that so consistently undermined the Tannadice side’s push for the top earlier in the campaign seems to have been filled with some solid reinforcements and they’re picking up momentum.
While they may have struggled to impose themselves against a Queen of the South side reduced to ten men after Barry Maguire was sent off for his part in the decisive penalty incident, they were effective in keeping the door shut.
“It’s always tough here”, observed Neilson. “Only ourselves and Morton have won here this season. Even when they went down to ten men – when you’ve still got a strike force like they have with [Stephen] Dobbie and [Lyndon] Dykes there’s always going to problems caused. I’m just pleased to get the three points.”
As an attacking force themselves United were far more impressive in the opening 45 minutes as they pressed for the crucial breakthrough. Recently recruited Peter Pawlett has spent most of his career dazzling and frustrating in equal measure. But his pace is one seemingly constant quality and when he fixes his radar on goal he carries a real menace for opposing defences as he did in the first half yesterday.
A typically bewildering and slaloming run took Pawlett in the clear with only Alan Martin to beat but his shot just edged to the wrong side of the post. Shortly afterwards it was the ex-Aberdeen winger’s ability to execute a decent set-piece that was notable as his floated corner picked out the towering Frederic Frans, whose header seemed netbound until Martin clawed it away from under the bar.
There was a degree of inevitability then as to who was involved in the match-turning moment. Under pressure from Pavel Safranko the ball was played hurriedly to the hosts’ central defender Barry Maguire who was caught napping as Pawlett pilfered it off his toes and closed in on goal. In his anxiety to make amends Maguire then clipped his heals, got a red card for his troubles and United were awarded a penalty. Former Queens man Nicky Clark clinically dispatched the spot-kick beyond Martin.
It looked to be all uphill for the Doonhamers in the second half, but to be fair they made a decent fist of it. The ever prolific Stephen Dobbie had been on meagre rations before the interval but he popped up with a devilish 30-yard free-kick which many in the ground thought was on its way to the back of the net, only to narrowly glide past. The visitors’ defence was called upon to do some unadorned sentry duties to keep the spirited efforts of the ten men at bay. They did so, but it was a hard shift.
Luck was on their side too as a Kyle Jacobs’ shot rattled the crossbar, but try as Queens undoubtedly did in the closing moments they just couldn’t find a way past Benjamin Siegrist in the United goal.