This was a victory for Dundee United that was just about as painful on the eye as the Championship table makes joyful viewing for their supporters right now. They ground out a win thanks to a lively opening to the second half which saw Mark Connolly head in the only goal of the game and then had enough nous to see themselves over the line to make it 10 wins in 11 games. If as expected Robbie Neilson’s men go on to clinch promotion they’ll look back on games like this and say this was where all the hard graft counted.
“I’m just happy to get the three points and get away up the road,” was Neilson’s summation. “It’s a difficult place to come. They’ve got a good team and it’s a very hard surface to play football on. The last time we were here we were turned over. It’s all about getting the win.”
His comments reflected a 90 minutes which struggle to merit any embellishment. For long passages this game was as stuffy and stodgy as a plateful of seasonal leftovers. The synthetic surface at Palmerston certainly played its part, with all sorts of weird and wonderful bounces of the ball, but the players were also active contributors by seemingly trying to boot it as high into the pallid Dumfries sky as possible. The midfield was a place of utter congestion and for all the venerated attacking firepower on display from Lawrence Shankland and Stephen Dobbie, both goalkeepers were near bystanders.
It took until the cusp of half time for a genuinely sinuous passage of play that led to something meaningful in terms of a chance, with Dobbie advancing before cutting the ball back for Jack Hamilton. Somehow however the Queens striker managed to direct it straight into the midriff of Benjamin Siegrist rather than bury it in the back of the net.
After such a mundane opening 45 minutes, it seemed set fair to be braced for more of the same but surprisingly the stalemate was broken in the most rudimentary fashion within three minutes of the restart. Nicky Clark swung over a corner and Connolly sent a thumping header beyond Robby McCrorie to put United ahead. They almost added another within a couple of minutes when Liam Smith’s shot across the goal almost crept in at the far post. The Tayside men took a real grip on the game from this point onwards, breaking up the flow of their hosts’ attempts to create something for Dobbie and his colleagues to work on.
In a league that has become a byword for unpredictability, Queens are right up at the top of the table when it comes to inconsistency. They’ve failed to beat bottom of the table Alloa in two meetings, yet have beaten Dundee, Ayr and Partick on their own patches, and administered an eyebrow-raising four-goal walloping to United themselves in the corresponding fixture earlier in the campaign. After three wins out of four their motor stalled yet again yesterday and doubts still loom over their ability to make the play-off places.
Queens’ manager Allan Johnston wasn’t happy with what he had witnessed. “It was a frustrating game,” he reflected. “In the second half Dundee United just tried to slow the game down – I probably expected a bit more of the league leaders.”