After a well deserved victory over Dumbarton the previous week Ray McKinnon made just the one change to the starting line-up, with Mark Durnan returning from suspension to replace Coll Donaldson in central defence.
By Ally Stewart
There was a large contingent of ex United players in the visiting line up with David McCracken, John Rankin, Mark Kerr and Lee Miller all starting. It was also a first return to Tannadice for former Scottish Cup winning manager Peter Houston, now at the Falkirk helm. With both sides neck and neck, separated by just a point, a win for either could go on to prove hugely significant come the end of the season.
The game started with the hosts more on the front foot with both Scott Fraser and Tony Andreu causing the Falkirk defence some early concerns. Nick Van der Velden and then Paul Dixon both screwed long range shots a similar distance wide inside the opening 10 minutes as they looked to test the goalkeeper. In the 13th minute former United captain Rankin sent a dipping shot from the edge of the box just wide of Cammy Bell’s left hand post in the visitors first real threat on goal. Immediately afterwards Falkirk keeper Danny Rogers then did well to parry away a strong angled drive from Andreu who had been teed up by Van der Velden. Despite both sides having their moments in an attack there was a developing nature of scrappiness to play with both defences on top. A sublime through ball in 28 minutes from Charlie Telfer almost broke this pattern however Rogers was able to slide out and chest the ball away just ahead of Andreu who would’ve been well placed to score. Seven minutes from half time the Bairns won a free kick in a dangerous area which Kerr floated into the area. The ball was cleared to Craig Sibbald who made some space before firing well over from a decent position 12 yards out. In the last effort of the first half Sibbald again found himself well placed in the box but after steering a lofted ball in on the volley Bell was able to gather comfortably to ensure the half ended goalless.
The Tangerines made a positive start to the second half with Fraser going close with a left foot shot from distance which cleared the bar. A minute later Fraser swung a dangerous ball into the box which was glanced wide from 6 yards by Frank Van der Struijk who’d made his way upfield. Fraser then showed great strength to win the ball back in midfield and played in Tope Obadeyi who made a poor connection and sent his left foot shot several feet wide. Dixon was next to fire off target however this time there appeared to be a clear deflection off a Falkirk defender which was not seen by referee Euan Anderson. Close to the hour mark there was a real moment of panic for the hosts as a quickly taken Falkirk free kick was headed towards the goalkeeper by Van der Velden unaware of the incoming Luke Leahy who prodded the ball goal ward. Thankfully Bell was alive to the danger and his good reactions ensured he could to gather the ball safely. McKinnon then sent on Simon Murray and Cammy Smith for Obadeyi and Van der Velden on the hour mark in a positive move to intensify the attack. Bairns midfielder Sibbald earnt the first booking of the game in the 64th minute after bringing down Telfer resulting in William Edjenguele heading Fraser’s free kick over from around 7 yards out. Rogers then made another good save diving low to his left to turn away a strong effort from Fraser. Murray raced onto the loose ball to send back towards goal but the visitors had defenders well placed to make the clearance. With 20 minutes left Murray found some space on the right edge of the Falkirk box and drilled in a powerful shot which was rising all the time and sailed over. Just as the momentum looked like it was building for United the pace of the game died down again and similar to the first half was played out mostly in midfield. In the 80th minute a fierce strike from Leahy was deflected out for a corner however the crucial opener for United was only a matter of minutes away. Durnan started the move bringing the ball out from defence and playing an upfield ball to Smith who then flicked out to Fraser who was in space down Falkirk’s left flank. The youngster raced forward and played the ball back inside to Smith who managed to guide it on into the middle of the danger area. After taking a touch off a defender the ball fell kindly to the man who started the move Durnan who smashed the ball home past Rogers from 8 yards. Tannadice erupted to acknowledge what looked like being the decisive moment in the match. The visitors mounted a late rally to try and salvage a point, with Edjenguele having to make a match saving tackle to prevent sub Bob McHugh from getting a shot in deep in injury time. Then right at the death amidst a scramble in the United box a Myles Hippolyte shot cannoned off the post before Durnan made a superb block from the rebound however the offside flag had already been raised and a massive three points were secured for United.
Full Time Summary
It was definitely not the prettiest game of football you’ll ever see however there is no doubting this could prove to be a pivotal win come the end of the season over one of our main promotion rivals. The trend in recent weeks of remaining patient to get the job done again displayed itself in abundance and the win was thoroughly merited on the day.
Man of the Match
There were candidates at the back for United with Van der Struijk and Durnan rock solid throughout but the award goes to Scott Fraser who was United’s most creative threat throughout the game. What was also noticeable was the difference in his physical strength and willingness to contribute at both ends of the field – a sign of the improvement he is now showing under McKinnon.
United – Bell, Dixon, Durnan, Fraser (Donaldson 86), Obadeyi (Murray 60), Telfer, Edjenguele, Flood, Andreu, Van Der Struijk, Van Der Velden (Smith 60). Subs not used – Zwick, Dillon, Spittal, Robson.
Falkirk – Rogers, Leahy, Muirhead, McCracken, Rankin (Craigen 85), Taiwo, Kerr, Baird (McHugh 79), Sibbald (Hippolyte 72), Gasparotto, Miller. Subs not used – Mehmet, Grant, Shepherd, Watson.
Referee – Euan Anderson
Attendance – 7046