St Mirren 1 - 2 Dundee United: Safranko and Clark strikes see United into next round

This was a game of two contrasting halves but Championship contenders United were so utterly dominant during the opening 45 minutes that there was little doubt that they deserved to take their place in tomorrow night’s draw for the quarter-finals of the William Hill Scottish Cup.

Dundee United's Nicky Clark doubles his side's lead. Pic: SNS/Roddy Scott

A spirited fightback in the second period (albeit against ten men) was not enough to earn St Mirren a replay and nor could it entirely erase the memory of how pedestrian and lacking in invention they had been for the first hour.

However, victorious manager Robbie Neilson was incensed by referee Willie Collum’s decision to only caution Paul McGinn for taking out Cammy Smith with his elbow early in the second half, an offence which should have resulted in a dismissal – and he was equally unhappy with the red card shown to Calum Butcher.

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“I was really pleased with the first 50 minutes and then the game became a wee bit scrappy,” he said. “The referee’s decision not to send McGinn off made it a fight and a battle, everyone starts kicking each other and he tried to calm it down by sending one of my players off.

“Then it was backs to the wall, so I was disappointed with that side. But to come to a Premiership club and dominate for 55 minutes was good.

“When you see the picture of it, the two of them have their legs up and he’s probably seen my player going in and he thought: ‘I need to calm this down’ because, as soon as he didn’t send McGinn off, everything just escalated and they think they can get away with anything.

“It’s not right that, I don’t really want to come and speak about referees because we are trying to calm it down but it went from a really god performance from us to a physical game where it was just kicking each other. He decides to send someone off and it was just a lottery after that. I thought that was a disgrace. He saw [McGinn], the fourth official saw it and watch it on the TV tonight.”

Unsurprisingly perhaps, given Saints’ wretched recent run of results, the Championship club looked more confident than their top-tier opponents, spraying the ball around quickly and cleverly and posing problems the hosts have become all too accustomed to.

Right-back Charlie Seaman played a key role in the opener with a surging run to the by-line and a deep cross for Nicky Clark. Vaclav Hladky managed to block the striker’s header and excelled again to parry Pavol Safranko’s shot from the loose ball.

However, when Peter Pawlett attempted to guide that rebound into the far corner, Safranko instinctively threw out his leg to deflect it behind the goalkeeper from 12 yards.

Saints did not muster an attack of any note in a first half which concluded with them falling two behind. Mihai Popescu was at fault, allowing a hopeful punt from Jamie Robson to drift over his head, with Clark darting in front of the centre-back to dink the ball over Hladky as he left his line.

Kearney attempted to inject some life into his charges by withdrawing the ineffective Anders Dreyer and Greg Tansey at half-time, replacing them with Simeon Jackson and Kyle McAllister.

Those changes made them slightly more competitive but the biggest boost they received was when McGinn escaped with a yellow card when he caught Smith with a forearm smash. Then Butcher lost his discipline and went in over the top on Ryan Flynn, receiving a straight red card.

Immediately afterwards a rising drive from Popescu beat Benjamin Siegrist but came back off the underside of his bar; fortunately for United, Pawlett was first to the rebound.

McAllister proved to be a thorn in United’s side – or, to be more precise, their left flank. His close control bamboozled his markers and he provided a string of inviting deliveries which went a-begging, although Saints did manage to pull one goal back when Duckens Nazon tried his luck from 20 yards and his deflected strike got the better of Siegrist.

“You can’t keep giving teams a two goal start and expect to win,” said frustrated Saints manager Oran Kearney.