united hit by cash and burns

A goal struck in textbook fashion by Paul Burns five minutes from the end gave the visitors victory and served notice that Dunfermline Athletic are nobody’s whipping boys in the SPL. Last night they sat third in the table and those of us who tipped them for an immediate return to the First Division may have to eat large slices of humble pie.

A last-minute equaliser by Martin Hardie against Inverness a fortnight ago, and now two away wins against St Johnstone and Dundee United, are proof that Jim McIntyre’s men are tenacious in the struggle to stay in the top flight.

It was a strange outcome to a match which United should have won if judged by all the usual criteria of possession and chances created, but you always felt that Dunfermline might just snatch it as their ability to break from defence was displayed throughout. In truth, they snatched victory from the jaws of a draw, and that was perhaps down to United’s failure to convert dominance into goals, though stout defending is part of football and Dunfermline did it well “from the front back”.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

McIntyre said: “When you are playing that type of system you have to get players back quickly and deny them space because they have players that can hurt you. Our start to the SPL has been better than we imagined, but we must keep our feet on the ground.”

Back-to-back losses have been suffered, but the event that might yet define United’s season took place many hours before the match started. United chairman Stephen Thompson revealed before the match that the club’s bankers on Friday took all of the £2.8 million the club received for David Goodwillie to pay off some of United’s debts. The Thompson family have also cried enough in terms of their funding and therefore there will be no extra cash for players.

United manager Peter Houston said afterwards: “It’s frustrating. You lose your best player, and there’s a game where Goodwillie might have taken some of the chances, but we just have to get on with it.”

But even as the bad tidings spread around Tannadice, United dispelled any thoughts that they might be downcast after last week’s thrashing by Celtic and started brightly but only had a long-range Willo Flood shot – comfortably saved by Paul Gallacher – on target. Dunfermline then enjoyed a sustained spell of pressure with the tricky Joe Cardle to the fore on the left wing, but too many final passes went astray.

The game sparked into life around the 25-minute mark. Before that, Barry Douglas should have done better with a header, and the same remark applied to Hardie, whose header off a Jason Thomson cross went wide of the target.

United took control, and only Thomson’s lightning-quick interception prevented Johnny Russell scoring from slap in front of goal. Jon Daly then rose to head a John Rankin cross just wide, before Gallacher became the visitors’ hero with three saves inside seconds just on the half-hour mark. First he got down to scramble behind a Daly flick from point-blank range, then he fisted clear the resultant Flood corner that was curling goalward. He kept the best to the last though, as Scott Robertson returned the clearance on the volley, only for the diving Gallacher to claw the goalbound shot to safety via the post. It was a magnificent series of saves, the kind that can send heads downwards, but United kept up the tempo and though the visitors matched them in energy expended, it was their hosts who had all the chances.

Flood hit the post direct from a corner before Rankin headed past. Daly had a go from distance but it went straight to Gallacher. The Dunfermline defence then gathered en masse to deflect away Garry Kenneth’s header off a Rankin cross.

Dundee United had undoubtedly had the better of the first half and that was again the case in the second. Russell blasted over from just inside the box, before another Flood inswinging corner saw Gallacher clear with a punch.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Apart from the odd breakaway by Dunfermline, it was all United, Rankin’s shot on the turn going just wide, and Russell’s head flick off substitute Danny Swanson’s shot going just wide.

The deciding moment came after 85 minutes when the tireless Cardle won a modicum of space on the left wing and fired in a low cross that diagonally traversed the entire box to where Burns was rushing in. The crisp low shot seemed to take a deflection, perhaps enough to put Dusan Pernis off.

It was Burns’ first goal in the SPL. He said: “We have made a good start and we’re trying to improve every week but we’re not going to get ahead of ourselves. I’ve scored good goals like that before, but it’s special to get your first in the SPL.”

The signs are there that Dunfermline will at least survive in the SPL. As for United, somebody please show them the money.