United were made to work hard by a stubborn Stranraer at Stair Park this afternoon before booking their place in the quarter-finals of the IRN-BRU Cup.
By Peter Rundo
Having dominated almost throughout, the Tangerines finally broke the League One side’s resistance midway through the second-half when Tony Andreu headed the only goal of the game.
Manager Ray McKinnon made four changes from the team that drew with Hibs. In goal, Luis Zwick replaced Cammy Bell as he recovers from a groin op. Skipper Seán Dillon came in at right-back for Frank van der Struik. Fully fit Charlie Telfer replaced the sidelined Lewis Toshney in midfield and Cammy Smith was drafted in for Nick van der Velden who didn’t travel. There were signs early on that the League One side was going to be hard to break down as they gave as good as they got in the early stages. Indeed, they were first to threaten with Paul Dixon heading away a dangerous croos from the left after five minutes for a corner. Straight from that Blair Spittal fired a in a free-kick from just outside the box, but it had too much elevation. On nine minutes, United again threatened when Mark Durnan headed down a Scott Fraser corner and the home defence eventually scrambled the ball to safety. Beginning to exert their authority, chances started coming at regular intervals for the Tangerines. First Cammy Smith fired just past the near post on 15 minutes and three minutes later Simon Murray’s shot on the turn was saved by keeper Paul Belford at full stretch. Midway through the half, Tony Andreu’s 25-yard free-kick clattered the crossbar. And shortly after that Murray met Cammy Smith’s inviting cross, but his glancing header slipped agonisingly the wrong side of the far post. However, Stranraer served a reminder that they weren’t out of this contest when Willie Gibson cut in from the left and unleashed a shot which Luis Zwick acrobatically palmed past the post. But before the break, Belford again denied Murray fisting away his shot from the edge of the box.
After playing wide left, Murray moved into a more central role, though it was the hosts who made a sprightly start to the half. Soon, however, United were back dominating, though it has to be said finding it hard to break down the home side’s disciplined defending. Therefore, it came as a great relief when United found the net and what a fine effort it was. Paul Dixon found space on the left to deliver a cross from which the spring-heeled Andreu rose to direct in a header which wrong-footed Belford for his sixth goal in as many games. Indeed it bore a remarkable similarity to his winner against Peterhead though that came from a cross from the right. Just after the hour mark, Cammy Smith netted but was rightly ruled offside, though had he left it to Murray who looked onside it might have counted. Ten minutes from time Ali Coote replaced Cammy Smith as United ran down the clock relatively comfortably to progress.
This was never going to be a stroll in the park against the battling hosts. However, with a somewhat depleted side, they did enough to edge through and there was the added bonus of a clean sheet for only the third time this season.
Man of the Match : Not just for being United’ s match-winner, Tony Andreu gets the nod with his intelligent play and superb close control making the game’s outstanding performance.
Stranraer: Belford, Robertson, Dick, Barron, Bell, Morena (R Thomson 81, Turner (McKeown 88), C Thomson (Nadé 70), Gibson, Malcolm, McGuigan.
Subs not used: Currie, Agnew.
United: Zwick, Dillon, Edjenguélé, Durnan, Dixon, Fraser, Telfer, Spittal, Andreu, C Smith (Coote 80), Murray.
Subs not used: Long, Donaldson, van der Struijk, Robson, B Smith, M Smith.
Attendance : 629 (Arabs 172)
Referee: Greg Aitken