Robbie Neilson got exactly the start he wanted to his career as United’s manager with a victory which provided evidence that there are better times ahead for the troubled Tayside club. He even drew positives from their wastefulness in front of goal, claiming it allowed his players to prove that they had the fortitude required to dig out a result when Thistle came into it near the end.
“I think they showed two sides of it today,” he claimed. “They showed energy in the first 60 minutes, which was great but when they have a new manager coming in you often get that bounce.
“But you saw the resilience at the end as well. We could have gone two up, then lost a goal and people would have said United have crumbled in the past few years.
“Being able to see it out 2-1 by putting bodies on the line, winning headers and being together with the fans was probably the best outcome, as opposed to coming here and winning two or three-nil.
“This can’t be a false dawn, though; we need to build on this.”
The opening 45 minutes was as one-sided as it is possible to be, with the visitors on top from the start. Cammy Bell saved well from Callum Booth, Frederic Frans and Fraser Fyvie while Paul McMullan struck a post and Pavol Safranko had a goal chalked off for offside. The opening goal was a long time in coming, then, and the reaction from United’s supporters was as much relief at finally having something tangible to show for their dominance as joy at having broken the deadlock.
Former Hibernian midfielder Sam Stanton was the architect with a run to the byeline and a sumptuous cross but Canada midfielder Fraser Aird deserves the lion’s share of the credit for his controlled volley from eight yards which flew inside Bell’s left-hand post.
The outcome appeared to have been put beyond all doubt three minutes after the restart when Safranko was on the spot to fire home the rebound when Bell failed to hold a low drive by McMullan. Stanton had already struck the crossbar after being sent clear by McMullan so even that goal was overdue.
It should have been more than enough to make the points safe but their wayward finishing meant that the hosts were never effectively killed off and substitute Jai Quitongo capitalised on a slip by Algerian defender Rachid Bouhenna to run through and score, nutmegging the advancing Benjamin Siegrist to set up a finale which was much more nervous for United than it ought to have been.
Thistle, who sacked manager Alan Archibald last week, anticipate that his successor will be in situ by the time they visit Alloa on Saturday.
“The deadline for applications was Friday so we’ve identified a short list and the board is now vetting them and going through the usual process,” said chief executive (and interim manager) Gerry Britton. “Hopefully, we’ll have the new man in place for next weekend’s game.”