WHAT makes football so wonderful is that villains – players hated by armies of men – can find atonement less than a week after their crime. In Wednesday’s Dundee derby, United goalkeeper Radoslaw Cierzniak made the kind of howler that will live forever in local folklore. Three days later he produced an incredible match-winning performance to earn his side their first victory since 8 February, clinch a place in the top six and relieve some of the pressure on his team-mates and the under-fire United management staff.
Scorer: Dundee United - Erskine 70
“Pressure is the world we live in,” said United assistant Simon Donnelly. “Pressure is winning games and we haven’t been doing that, and everybody has felt it. Most impressively and most importantly for us today is the boys put in great effort and a real team performance.
“Hopefully it can turn things around. The boys are down there with a smile on their faces and they’ll have a spring in their step tonight, and that’s what a win can bring.
“He [Cierzniak] was tremendous today. I was delighted for him. He’s a great lad and he’s a terrific professional. I really felt for him on the back of the other night.”
If United are going to put a run together to appease disgruntled sections of their support, they will need more quality from the rest of their side with regards to yesterday’s display. Hamilton, despite undergoing an equally unenviable skid of their own, were the hungrier side from the beginning and generally looked the team more likely to take all three points, and they surely would have done were it not for the United No.1.
Cierzniak’s metal was tested early as Accies tried a couple of pots shots from distance. They had clearly done their homework and, sure enough, Cierzniak did not look particularly comfortable dealing with either effort despite them being straight down his throat. Ali Crawford and Mikey Devlin also had chances before United could muster a threat of their own.
Even then it wasn’t a clear shot at goal as Ziggy Gordon produced a last-ditch tackle to deny Blair Spittal charging into the penalty area. While at the other end they were thankful for Paul Paton clearing a close-range Nigel Hasselbaink effort off the line.
This trend continued in the second half with Stephen Hendrie’s toe-poke from inside the penalty area coming back off the post five minutes after the restart.
On the hour, Accies missed a glorious chance as the feeling that the universe was beginning to conspire against them slowly crept in. Dougie Imrie’s attempted cross from the right took a deflection, sending the ball spinning in the air before it dropped at the back post. Louis Longridge had read its flight perfectly, meeting it with a side-foot volley which rebounded off the underside of Cierzniak’s bar and somehow stayed out of the net.
With his confidence growing the Polish stopper then made the incredible triple save which defined the game. His initial stop from Crawford was of the highest calibre. The midfielder’s free kick looked certain to find the top corner until Cierzniak scrambled across goal and got the slightest fingertip touch which diverted the ball on to the post. From there, United twice struggled to clear their lines, forcing their ’keeper into making two more impressive stops down to his right-hand side to deny Jason Scotland and Crawford once more.
Accies’ sinking feeling was confirmed when United finally put together a coherent move, which finished with Chris Erskine sweeping a first-time effort from 18 yards into the far corner after being found by Charlie Telfer.
It knocked the stuffing out of the visitors and they never threatened again. Sub Mario Bilate’s injury-time miss, after being found by Nadir Ciftci at the back post, was the only other chance in the game. The loss extends Hamilton’s winless run to 13 games, though manager Martin Canning refused to be too downbeat.
“I thought the boys were excellent,” insisted Canning. “First half I didn’t think there was much in the game; second half I thought we were much the better team. It’s just one of those days when the ball doesn’t go in the net. When things aren’t going for you, that’s what happens.”
Dundee United: Cierzniak; McGowan, Souttar, Morris, Dixon; Telfer, Paton; Erskine (Erskine 84), Connolly, Spittal (Bilate 63); Ciftci. Subs not used: Szromnik, Dillon, Butcher, Smith, Anier.
Hamilton: McGovern; Lyon, Gordon, Devlin, Hendrie; Crawford, Gillespie; Imrie, MacKinnon (Brophy 80), Longridge (Redmond 74); Hasselbaink (Scotland 57). Subs not used: Hill, Watson, MacDonald, Tagliapietra.
Referee: A Dallas. Attendance: 5,243.
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