By Ally Stewart
United – 2 (Fraser 28, Murray 45)
St Mirren – 1 (Sutton 27)
Ray McKinnon made three changes ahead this crunch Christmas Eve meeting with St Mirren at Tannadice Park. Having received a red card the previous week at Raith Rovers Lewis Toshney missed out, being replaced at right back by Sean Dillon. After completing 45 minutes for the Development side in midweek, Paul Dixon returned at left back ahead of Jamie Robson. The final change was at the other end of the field with fit again Simon Murray preferred to Tope Obadeyi in attack in what was to be his 50th appearance for the club. With only goal difference separating United from Hibs at the top of the table and a meeting at Easter Road looming early in the New Year, the importance of gathering three points couldn’t be underestimated.
There were glimpses of goal for both teams early on with the visitors first to threaten in the 4th minute. Neat play set up Kyle McAllister in space in the box however William Edjenguele was on hand to block the shot. At the other end Murray attempted an ambitious shot from distance but dragged the ball wide then a foray down the right flank from Dillon resulted in Blair Spittal looping a header over from an inviting delivery. After a dangerous corner from the visitors was headed away by Mark Durnan there was a stoppage in play when the United man and the in rushing Gary Mackenzie clashed heads. In the end Mackenzie had to be withdrawn in place of Jack Baird after failing to recover. Durnan initially carried on for United but then also had to be replaced by Coll Donaldson, clearly still feeling the effects of the earlier challenge. Unfortunately for the United sub his first involvement was to play a significant part in the opening goal for St Mirren. Donaldson stumbled over the ball when receiving a Dixon throw to the edge of the box, allowing John Sutton to pounce and bury confidently beyond Cammy Bell. This was the first goal conceded by the Tangerines in over six games however they reacted brilliantly to the disappointment and were level under a minute later. Tony Andreu played a low ball across the six-yard box which found a way to Scott Fraser at the far post who slammed the ball home from 8 yards. There was a penalty shout just after when Murray went down under pressure from Andy Webster but referee John McKendrick waved play on. In what was the most frantic spell of the match to that point, the Paisley side missed a glorious chance to re take the lead when an excellent cross by McAllister was met by Jason Naismith who struck the post from close range. 5 minutes before half time Willo Flood neatly switched the play wide to Fraser who used Dillon as decoy before cutting inside but his low left foot shot ran wide of the target. On the stroke of half time United’s main threat then Fraser won a free kick on the right edge of the box. The midfield man took the set piece himself and curled in a delivery towards the back post with tangerine shirts queueing up to score. The man who got the vital touch from just a yard out was Simon Murray to head United into a half time lead which had for long spells seemed unlikely.
There was little in the way action on resumption and it was the 58th minute before either goalkeeper was called upon. After good link up between Spittal and Fraser on the right side of the box the former dinked in a cross which Murray headed towards the corner forcing a good save from Scott Gallacher diving to his right. St Mirren responded in the 63rd minute with a right foot shot from Lewis Morgan 20 yards out which Bell turned round the post low to his left. The corner was cleared and as Fraser looked to break up field he was crudely taken out from behind by sub David Clarkson who earned just a yellow card from referee McKendrick. Former Tannadice favourite Webster was next to earn a booking for a foul on Spittal before Donaldson headed just wide from the resulting free kick. It then needed a perfectly timed saving challenge from Edjenguele to prevent Morgan from pulling the trigger after he was sent clear in the box. This provided United with the warning that a 3rd goal was needed to seal the points and the home side looked to press forward thereafter. Murray lost his balance after a foraging run into the box before Gallacher made a good save from a Dillon shot from long range that was heading towards the top corner. With the visitors pushing forward chasing an equaliser there were opportunities for United on the break and on one of these occasions Fraser just failed to connect his head with Spittal’s delivery. It again required Edjenguele to make a vital challenge, this time on sub Lawrence Shankland, as the hosts had to withstand some late pressure. There was another breakaway opportunity just into injury time when Andreu played in Spittal who blasted over from 8 yards however the offside flag had been raised in any case. United survived a last moment of panic when a dangerous ball into the box went past for a goal kick evading two St Mirren players waiting to connect on its way. Thankfully the Terrors were able to see the game out and the relief at the final whistle inside the stadium reflected the fact this was a massive three points. And there was further good news shortly after full time as Hibs draw at home to Raith meant United would go top of the league.
Full Time Summary
As stated this was a massive win and it was hard earned against a St Mirren side who have improved greatly in recent weeks under new boss Jack Ross. It’s always a good sign when your team wins despite not being at their best and this was certainly the case for United today. The timing of both goals was crucial but overall they did end up worthy winners.
Man of the Match
Despite good displays from goal scorers Murray and Fraser the award goes to William Edjenguele who put in another influential display at the back. The two perfectly timed last ditch tackles in the second half summed up where his game is right now and he is now firmly established as one of the most important members of the team.
United – Bell, Dillon, Dixon, Durnan (Donaldson 25) Spittal, Murray (Smith 80), Fraser, Telfer (van der Velden), Edjenguele, Flood, Andreu. Subs not used – Zwick, Murdoch, Obadeyi, Robson.
St Mirren – Gallacher, Naismith, Irvine, Mackenzie (Baird 19), Quinn (Clarkson 60), Mallan, Sutton, McAllister (Shankland 79), Webster, Morgan, Magennis. Subs not used – Langfield, Gallagher, McLear, Hardie.
Referee – John McKendrick
Attendance – 7247