Dundee 0 - 3 Dundee United: Three is becoming United’s magic derby number

Keith Watson after opening the scoring with a diving header. Picture: SNS
Keith Watson after opening the scoring with a diving header. Picture: SNS
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KEITH Watson continued his habit of scoring on the big occasions as Dundee United maintained their city supremacy at Dens Park.

Dundee 0 - 3 Dundee United

Scorers: Dundee United - Watson (17), Daly (71 pen), Flood (88)

Referee: W Collum

Attendance: 11,419

ENGROSSING, passionate and up-lifting, there is a consistency to the themes delivered by this particular fixture so far this season. Sadly for Dundee, the outcome is proving reliable too. They’ve been in this film noir before.

There was much to admire, specifically when supporters of both clubs joined in to celebrate Doug Smith’s memory with loud applause. The long-serving United centre-half died last week and both sets of fans couldn’t wait to pay tribute, beginning clapping long before referee Willie Collum signalled the official start of the minute’s ovation. It was a heartening way to open an engaging, if unsophisticated, spectacle.

In terms of Dundee, the chastening properties of this fixture must be acknowledged. When Willo Flood’s late deflected effort evaded Robert Douglas, it was the ninth unanswered goal United have scored against their rivals in three meetings since their opening clash, a friendly at Dens Park, in July. They have been evenly spread out – 3-0, 3-0 and 3-0. As they cheerfully dispersed, the WAGS among the away support were suggesting giving Dundee a two-goal start next time.

It was another stark reminder of where these clubs are in relation to one another. Geographical proximity is one thing; the quirky scenario where two clubs share the same street allowed the opposition to walk up to yesterday’s ‘away’ game. However, if we are judging quality, then a greater gap than the mere width of a street continues to be highlighted by these meetings, although there was basis for a degree of frustration to be felt by the home side.

Dundee began both halves strongly, but were undone by poor defending in the first instance, and then, as they looked to lever themselves back into the game, a controversial penalty decision that saw Barry Smith’s side slip two goals behind. Twenty minutes still remained and against opponents less streetwise than United, we might still have had a game on our hands.

United, however, were allowing Dundee only meagre glimpses at goal, and they closed out a second successive competitive derby victory with relative ease, adding a third goal through Flood with just two minutes remaining.

Both sides were returning to league action after Scottish Cup victories against lower league opposition the previous weekend. Dundee’s need for points is the greater. Six points separate the Dens Park side from St Mirren, who reside in second bottom place. Although Dundee still have two games in hand, it is reason for some concern. United, meanwhile, are now 12 points ahead of their neighbours. The gap is now what those who observed United’s 3-0 victory over Dundee at Tannadice in August would have expected come this stage of the season.

While Dundee have undoubtedly improved since those difficult early days, there must have been some unease yesterday at the similarities to the last derby clash, when they also failed to take advantage of a positive opening.

As at Tannadice, Dundee started as brightly as the winter sunshine that bathed the ground at kick-off. The low sun caused untold problems when the ball was in the air – which was often. Not that Dundee managed to create much in the way of clear-cut chances. A Nicky Riley header drifted over the head of the far-advanced Radoslaw Cierzniak and also cleared the bar.

While Dundee were industrious, their opponents still looked stronger physically. Even Flood used his shoulder to good effect. After just 17 minutes, and following only sporadic breaks up-field, the away side edged ahead. It had taken United just three minutes longer to make the breakthrough than in August.

Going all the way back to the early days of this fixture, there cannot be too many occasions when Dundee have lined up with a pair of centre-halves with a combined age of just 41. Kyle Benedictus and Declan Gallagher have taken their chance to establish themselves. This, however, was a significant test of their mettle.

Jon Daly, who gave Gallagher no end of trouble, had already scored a hat-trick here in the aforementioned close-season friendly and Dundee looked far from comfortable at the first corner they were asked to defend. From their second award, United struck. From the opposite side this time, Willo Flood whipped in a low swerving cross that a diving Keith Watson did well to steer into the net with his head.

Given the energy they had expended since kick-off to little effect, it was a particularly dispiriting goal for Dundee to concede. They re-grouped, and just before the half-hour mark came the first of the game’s defining moments. Jim McAlister knocked a long ball down into the path of Steven Milne, whose snatched shot from just outside the six-yard box cleared the bar. He knows he should have made it 1-1.

The same player sent a weak shot into the arms of Cierzniak just before half-time, but United had come closest to adding to the scoreline. Watson almost scored a second of the afternoon with a drilled shot from outside the box. Douglas did well to get two hands to the effort, but it was too powerful to hold and he was glad to turn round and see that the ball had just cleared the bar.

There was a renewed purpose about Dundee after the interval although, again, it was United who created the first real scoring chance when the impressive Stuart Armstrong saw an angled shot well held by Douglas. Gallagher then put his own defence on red alert when scooping an attempted clearance into Johnny Russell’s path. The United striker quickly whipped in a shot that bashed back off the post.

In between times, Dundee had appealed loudly for a penalty after a flick from Milne appeared to strike Brian McLean’s hand. Collum waved play on, as he had done in the first half when the ball struck Dundee defender Gary Irvine’s hand in the box.

The referee initially took the same course of action after an incident involving the same player after 70 minutes. Irvine went sliding into Armstrong as the midfielder was in the act of crossing, and though play continued to allow Daly to shoot at Douglas, Collum belatedly pointed to the spot after seeing the Dundee goalkeeper bring off a save. It was an unusual decision. Indeed, Peter Houston, the Dundee United manager, afterwards described it as “brave”. Daly stroked the penalty home .

Flood added the icing on the cake in the dying moments, scoring with what he later called a “shank”. A deflection helped lace the effort with danger and it bobbled past Douglas, to make it a hat-trick this season for United against their down-trodden rivals.

Dundee: Douglas, Irvine, Benedictus, Gallagher, Lockwood, Riley, Davidson, McBride, McAlister, Milne (Boyle 79), John Baird. Subs Not Used: Alex Baird, McGregor, Toshney, Conroy, Reid, Buchan.

Dundee United: Cierzniak, Watson, McLean, Gunning, Douglas, Flood, Rankin, Skacel (Ryan 74), Armstrong, Daly, Russell (Gardyne 90). Subs not used: Banks, Millar, Dow, Lacny, Barrett.