With Motherwell’s convincing 4-2 win over Falkirk yesterday, Craig Levein’s side went into this match against Saint Mirren in 11th place – just 2 points above Dunfermline at the bottom of the SPL table.
So, Dundee United realistically needed to take all 3 points out of their match against relegation contenders at Tannadice this afternoon, but for a while it looked like it was going to be the Paisley side that would run winners in a hard fought encounter infront of the shivering 5681 spectators.
Although, it was a solitary strike from Noel Hunt that eventually secured a 3rd home victory in a row for Craig Levein…..the first time United had won 3-in-a-row since the Feb 2004 when they also beat Rangers (2-0) and Kilmarnock (4-1), followed by a 1-0 win over Motherwell.
The only change to the side that crumbled so unexpectedly at East End Park the previous weekend was the inclusion of 18-year-old midfielder Greg Cameron, who stepped into the side to replace an injured David McCracken – who was kept out with a hamstring strain he picked against Dunfermline.
Gus MacPherson set his side out in a 3-5-2 formation from the start, trying to flood the midfield, with Dundee United starting in a more defensive 4-5-1, but with Robson & Conway getting up the wings as often as possible.
And it was a cross from Barry Robson that nearly put the Tangerine & Black side into the lead in the 19th minute, when Noel Hunt got onto the end of the cross about 12 yards out, but could only direct his header straight at former United goalie Tony Bullock in the Saints goalmouth.
Then, after 22minutes, Saint Mirren had the ball in the back of the net.
Billy Mehmet was retreating back onside & John Sutton thought he`d timed his run perfectly, but the linesman`s flag went up, much to the relief of the home support behind the goal.
Under 5 minutes later it was John Sutton again that scared the United defence, when the ball rebounded off Lee Mair`s leg into his path, but Derek Stillie was alert & managed to push his powerful 12-yard drive around the post.
At this stage it was the visitors who seemed in command, creating chances and catching the United defence napping on several occasions, but they couldn`t create many clear-cut chances.
After 30minutes a Simon Lappin corner gave John Potter an excellent chance from 6 yards, but his volleyed shot was blocked by captain Barry Robson at the expense of another corner, which Derek Stillie eventually punched to safety.
Then with just 5minutes remaining of the first half, Saints created the best clear-cut chances of the match so far, when Kirk Broadfoot`s cross found Hugh Murray unmarked right infront of Derek Stillie`s goal, but the 22-year-old defender was too busy planning his goal celebration and somehow headed the ball wide from 10-yards, with the goal gapping.
Halftime: Dundee United 0-0 Saint Mirren
Into the 2nd half and it was United who had the ball in the back of the net after 53 minutes.
A David Robertson long-range effort deflected wide off Saint`s Hugh Murray and from the resultant corner, Garry Kenneth headed the ball past Tony Bullock only for referee Brian Winter to chop the goal off for a push in the penalty box.
Garry Kenneth had a similar headed chance in the 59th minute from a Barry Robson cross, but from 6 yards he put the ball wide of Bullock`s left hand post.
Ironically, the newspapers had made much through the week about the impressive defensive partnership of Garry Kenneth & David McCracken, so with McCracken already out, it was pre-ordained that Kenneth would be taken off injured sometime throughout the match
So, it was that 59th minute opportunity that was to be Kenneth`s last significant involvement in the match, as he received a knock when challenging for the ball and hobbled about the park for another 7minutes before being replaced by another defender in Alan Archibald.
However, before the youngster was substituted, Dundee United finally managed to take the lead just after the hour mark.
Noel Hunt was United`s solitary target man upfront for almost the entire game and had put in a hard shift for Craig Levein, chasing lost causes and getting back to defend at every opportunity.
He eventually got his rewards in the 63rd minute, when a lazy Barry Robson cross was flicked on by David Robertson, Noel Hunt was onhand to stoop the ball home the right edge of the 6 yard box.
Dundee United 1-0 Saint Mirren
Gus MacPherson then made a tactical change, replacing Steward Kean with Richard Brittain and changing to a more attacking 3-4-3 formation to push forward against a United defence that had looked vulnerable throughout.
In the 71st minute, Kirk Broadfoot had a chance to equalize for the Buddies, but when a freekick was crossed into the danger area he wasted the chance by heading it over the bar from 12-yards.
United captain Barry Robson has been getting much praise in recent weeks for his impressive performances, but far too often it is his temper that gets in the way and in the 73rd minute a tussle between Robson & Broadfoot got a bit out of hand and the referee had to step in to calm things down.
It resulted in another booking for Robson, his 3rd yellow in 10 matches, and with a red card also to his name, the disciplinary points must be building up against a player who should be setting an example for the rest of his teammates when wearing the captain`s armband.
With only 10minutes remaining, the fingernails of the home support were taking a battering, as everyone wondered if United could hold onto their nerve (and their concentration) for the full 90mins.
Far too often this season (and last) they had succumbed to late equalizers and winners, and in the 83rd minute every United supporter held their breath as Billy Mehmet had another good opportunity to snatch a late point for the Saints.
A foul by Mark Kerr on Hugh Murray gave Saint Mirren the chance to float a dangerous ball into the box & when the delivery finally came in from Stewart Kean`s right boot, it was Mehmet that rose to direct a powerful header on target from around 12 yards.
Fortunately, Derek Stillie was in the right place at the right time & held onto the ball, much to the relief of Craig Levein and the thousands of Arabs inside the ground.
Gus MacPherson`s side continued to play long balls forward in search of that elusive equalizer, but the makeshift United defence held firm to full time and secured another 3 points under Craig Levein`s leadership.
Throughout the 90minutes, the United defence appeared vulnerable and a better side might have been able to capitalize on the lapses in concentration at the back. United didn`t look very composed throughout, with Saint Mirren showing more self-control on the ball.
Overall, it wasn`t the greatest performance from United, but at the end of the day its points that matter and its Dundee United that took all 3 points from this encounter, leapfrogging Saint Mirren (& Motherwell) into 9th place in the SPL table – 5 points ahead of bottom club Dunfermline.
Dundee United 1-0 Saint Mirren
9/10 – Since taking over at Tannadice, Levein has lead United to an impressive 9 points out of 12, winning 3 matches – more than Brewster managed during his whole 10months as manager.