United progress to the semis of the IRN BRU Cup courtesy of a third Mark Durnan goal in four games.
By Gordon Aitchison
As expected Ray McKinnnon rang the changes, with no fewer than eight changes from the starting eleven which won the three points in a hard fought game on Tuesday with the bulk of the bench from the midweek clash starting. Notably Brad Smith joined the team and the United fans will have welcomed the sight of Stuart Murdoch on the bench after his lengthy absence.
Nate Wedderburn, suspended for the Pars following his dismissal at Tannadice, and former United front man El Alagui dropped to the bench, while Michael Paton and Rhys McCabe join their starting line up.
Mark Durnan gave United an early lead, in the ninth minute, firing home from eight yards after the ball fell to him following a short corner routine by van der Velden and Spittal.
United then survived a couple of scares, firstly Lewis Toshney got in a fantastic block as Joe Cardle looked like he would score from 6 yards, then Coll Donaldson deflected a stinging Higginbotham effort wide.
Clever play by Cammy Smith, van der Velden and Murray then allowed Spittal a sight of goal as United piled on the pressure. Coll Donaldson was next to try his luck but his header from a corner sailed over.
By the half hour mark chances for either side had dried up, but it was obvious that the new defensive set up was giving Robson and Spittal the opportunity to get forward at every opportunity. Higginbotham was the chief instigator for the hosts, but his final ball was letting him down.
Dunfermline nearly equalised in spectacular fashion two minutes before the break, Higginbotham played a ball across the edge of the area and a clever stepover by Cardle left Moffat with a clear strike at goal. His wicked shot was inches off target and smacked off the top of the bar to the relief of Zwick in the United goal.
United reverted to their more usual back four at the beginning of the second half, which allowed Dunfermline more of an opportunity to press and they had the better of the opening minutes in the half, although Rhys McCabe’s ambitious forty yard free kick was their only effort on goal in the period.
Ten minutes into the half and Cammy Smith had a great effort well saved by Murdoch after being set in on goal by van der Velden. Murray operating out on the right then whipped in a dangerous cross that was clawed away from Toshney by the Pars keeper.
In the fifty sixth minute, and for the second game in a row, Dunfermline were reduced to ten men. Lewis Martin saw red for a last man pull of the jersey as Spittal rushed clear of the defender.
In a flurry of substitutions about the hour mark. Cardle was replaced by Fordyce in a reshuffle following the sending off. Ali Coote then replaced Simon Murray for United and El Alagui came on for Michael Moffat.
With the man advantage United were now finding space behind the Pars rearguard, van der Velden found Cammy Smith at the edge of the area but he was closed down before getting an effort away. McMullen came on for Nicky Clark as Allan Johnston made his final change of the match.
Bradley Smith was booked for pulling back McMullan on seventy three minutes, followed in quick succession by Ashcroft for upending Spittal on the edge of the area.
Spittal took the resultant free kick, which was deflected over for a corner. Murdoch then made a fantastic stop from a piledriver from Spittal before van der Velden hit a weak effort straight at the keeper.
United replaced Cammy Smith with Graham Taylor as the game entered the final ten minutes. van der Velden was cautioned for a trip on McMullan. Stuart Murdoch joined the game for the final five minutes for Lewis Toshney.
Dunfermline mounted a challenge in the dying minutes but it was United who had the best chance. Ali Coote exploited loads of space and bore in on goal, he had the skill to drag the ball back behind a sliding defender but drove his shot straight at Murdoch.
In final drama, the Dunfermline fans voiced their displeasure as El Alagui fell over at the edge of the box, Willie Collum waving play on as the fans cried foul.
Summary: This game was very similar to the midweek clash, the same one goal victory, the same number of men on the park at the end and if truth be told Dundee United just too strong for their opponents. It always looked as though United had another gear to move into, which must be pleasing for the manager given the number of changes.
Man of the Match : A real battling return for LEWIS TOSHNEY, his tackling was ferocious from beginning to end and his tracking back helped out his defenders time on a few occasions.
Dunfermline: Murdoch, Talbot, Martin, Ashcroft, Herron, Geggan ©, McCabe, Clark, Moffat (El Alagui 66), Cardle (Fordyce 57), Higginbotham
Unused Subs: Hutton, Paton, Duthie, Smith, McMullan
United: Zwick, Dillon ©, Durnan, Donaldson, Toshney, Spittal, Murray (Coote 62), C. Smith (Taylor 81), Van Der Velden, Robson, B. Smith
Unused Subs: Murdoch, M. Smith, Long, Allardice, Appere
Referee: Willie Collum