Ten man Dundee United managed to secure their first away win in almost 4 months, after a late Noel Hunt strike sealed a 3-2 win over Motherwell at Fir Park.
Dundee United’s last victory away from home was a 3-1 win over Saint Mirren at Love Street in August, but Craig Levein`s side have been impressive in recent visits to Easter Road & East End Park – it’s just the results that haven`t gone United`s way…..until now!
Craig Levein made only one change from the side that had beaten Caley Thistle 3-1 at Tannadice the previous weekend, with David McCracken returning to the United defence at the expense of Stuart Duff – who was dropped to the bench.
Motherwell also made only a solitary change to their line-up, with manager Maurice Malpas promoting Darren Smith into the starting eleven, with Steven McGarry sitting on the bench.
The home side started the brightest, with David Clarkson breaking clear down the right flank in the first 5minutes, but his shot from just inside the box was saved by Derek Stillie.
Then referee Mike McCurry awarded the Steelmen a great opportunity just a minute later, by giving them an indirect freekick inside United’s penalty area, after he judged that Derek Stillie had received a backpass from David McCracken.
Scott McDonald took the resultant freekick, but his shot was blocked by Barry Robson and play continued.
In the 14th minute, Noel Hunt had a chance to grab a goal, when he chased down a Meldrum clearance, but he wasted the chance by firing his 18 yard shot wide of the right hand post with the goal gapping.
Craig Levein has made it a priority to organise the Dundee United defence since his arrival and over the past few weeks they have done a great job in preventing some of the SPL top scorers from finding the back of the net.
Hibernian’s Ivan Sproule struggled against the United offside trap at Easter Road a fortnight ago and Motherwell’s David Clarkson & Scott McDonald had the same problem, getting caught offside 5 times in the opening stages of the match.
In the 24th minute Scott McDonald has a chance to put ‘Well infront, but his left-foot strike from 18 yards couldn`t beat Derek Stillie.
It was a chance Motherwell would regret, when just 5minutes later Collin Samuel opened the scoring with a left-foot volley from a Craig Conway cross.
Craig Conway burst down the left wing and curled a great cross into the box, which Collin Samuel expertly volleyed into the top right-hand corner of the goal against the run of play.
United were reduced to 10 men just after the re-start, when Christian Kalvenes was sent off for a 2nd bookable offence after a foul on David Clarkson.
However, even after going a man down, Dundee United still continued to push forward and in the 36th minute Colin Meldrum had to punch away an inswinging Barry Robson cross under pressure from Noel Hunt.
Craig Levein had to make a tactical substitution after the sending off – with goalscorer Collin Samuel sacrificed for defender Steven Robb – but Motherwell were still unable to capitalise on their extra man advantage and Dundee United extended their lead just before the halftime whistle.
Craig Conway once again was involved, this time curling a corner into the box, which David McCracken headed home from close range to put Craig Levein’s side 2-0 into the lead.
Manager Maurice Malpas had to do something to change his sides fortunes, and made a tactical substitution after 5minutes of the 2nd half gone.
David Clarkson was replaced by Calum Elliot who scored against Dundee United during the last clash between the sides at Tannadice in September.
On that day is was Elliot who opened the scoring after 61mins, only for Noel Hunt to equalise a few minutes later and Noel Hunt would once again prove to be a nuisance for ‘Well later in the match.
However, in the opening stages of the 2nd half, Motherwell started to take control and use their extra player to stretch the United defence.
Then, in the 61st minute, Darren Lee Smith was fouled by Craig Conway inside the area and referee McCurry award Motherwell a lifeline from the penalty spot.
Craig Dargo missed a penalty in the closing stages of last weekend’s Caley Thistle 3-1 win, but United weren`t as lucky this time round as Richie Foran blasted the ball into the bottom right-hand corner of the net to pull one back for the home side.
Mike McCurry should have awarded another penalty to Motherwell, when Alan Archibald brought down Scott McDonald inside the area, but bottled out of awarding a spot-kick after having already giving one just a few minutes earlier.
However, Motherwell still equalised in the 67th minute after, when a cross from former Dundee United winger Jim Paterson was met by the head of Mark Reynolds at the far post to make it 2-2.
Richie Foran could have grabbed all 3 points for the home side less than 5minutes later, but he wasted his 71st minute chance by blasting a Martyn Corrigan cross over the bar from only 6 yards.
Although, just as it looked likely that Motherwell wouldn`t grab a winner, Noel Hunt popped up to steal all 3 points for Dundee United with another goal against the run of playu for the visitors.
Another great cross from captain Barry Robson found Noel Hunt in space at the back post and he fired United into the lead again with a low header from just 6 yards.
The goal was Noel Hunt`s last involvement in the match, when he had to be stretchered off after over-stretching himself to put the ball into the back of Colin Meldrum net. That gave David Goodwillie a chance to come off the bench and use his pace to try to catch Motherwell on the counter-attack.
Maurice Malpas took a gamble with just 5minutes remaining, by substituting Steve McGarry On for Darren Lee Smith and playing with 4 frontmen, but United were determined not to lose another late goal and saw out the rest of the match without conceeding too many more chances.
The first match between united & Motherwell at Fir Park last season ended up in an amazing 5-4 win to the visiting side, with the Steelmen losing a 2-0 lead to strikes from Lee Miller(2), David Fernandez & Grant Brebner(2) – all of whom have since parted company with Tannadice.
Even without these 3 experienced players, Craig Levein’s side still managed to take an important 3 points back to Dundee.
United are now 10 points clear of bottom side Dunfermline, who could only manage a 0-0 draw with Saint Mirren at Love Street.
15 points out of a possible 21 have boosted United upto 8th in the table, ahead of Caley Thistle and just one win behind Hibernian in 6th place.
Craig Levein has already said he has no target for this season, apart from keeping Dundee United in the SPL, but if results continue in the same manner then its quite possible that United could make the top 6, which would be an incredible achievement after being clear at the bottom of the league just a month and a half ago!
Motherwell 2-3 Dundee United