By Ally Stewart
It was a crunch evening in the Scottish Championship as the hosts welcomed league leaders Hibernian to Tannadice in front of a large crowd under the lights. Despite a seven point gap between United and their opponents the game represented a huge opportunity due to the fact a win would leave them trailing by four points with a game in hand.
Following the 1-1 draw with Morton almost two weeks ago boss Ray McKinnon made three changes, bringing in Lewis Toshney, Alex Nicholls and Simon Murray in place of Thomas Mikkelsen, Nick Van der Velden and Charlie Telfer. During the build up McKinnon talked about the plan being to take the game to the visitors and those wearing tangerine were certainly hoping it would be an approach that would pay dividends.
As expected it was a lively opening period and after Willo Flood battled to win possession in midfield he played in Tony Andreu who won an early corner. After Hibs cleared the resulting set piece up field Lewis Stevenson then tried his luck from distance but his left footed effort drifted well wide. It was end to end stuff and Cammy Bell was twice forced to save from Jason Cummings, first when a speculative shot was easily gathered before he then raced out to block the attacker just outside the six yard box. United broke forward shortly after and Scott Fraser was just beaten to a through ball with Hibs goalie Ofir Marciano relieved to be able to gather. In the 24th minute Fraser drove into the visitors’ half and played a lovely ball through to Murray who was pushed over by David Gray just outside the box, earning the Hibs captain a yellow card. Nicholls then drove the free kick off the wall and out for a corner as the hosts looked to break the deadlock. The pivotal moment of the half came in the 32nd minute as, following an earlier yellow card, the outstretched leg of Lewis Toshney caught Andrew Shinnie a fraction late resulting in an early finish to the game for the midfielder. While it was a foul, the decision from Don Robertson to issue another yellow appeared to be incredibly harsh. As if to vindicate the feeling from a United perspective the referee then failed to produce a yellow for a much worse challenge from Martin Boyle barely 2 minutes later. Hibs capitalised further in the 38th minute when a Shinnie ball wasn’t dealt with allowing Cummings to race clear and fire high into the net past Bell.
Not long after the break both Cummings and John McGinn tried saw ambitious efforts sail off target before a further flurry of yellow cards were handed out by Robertson. Paul Dixon and Marvin Bartley were both booked before a flashpoint between William Edjenguele and Grant Holt also saw the pair cautioned as the game became increasingly bad tempered. McKinnon sent on Thomas Mikkelsen with just under half an hour left as the home side looked to somehow claim something from the game against the odds. In the 65th minute Boyle missed a sitter when he fired high over from 8 yards out after Gray had crossed in from the right after beating the offside trap. Boyle was next to create space on the right flank and his low ball into the area was steered towards goal by sub Fraser Fyvie who would’ve made it 2-0 but for a goal saving block from Durnan. With 15 minutes left there was another huge moment of controversy. After it seemed for a moment that Cummings had doubled the visitors’ lead from close range, the goal was then chopped off after the linesman had spotted that the striker had punched the ball into the net, resulting in a second booking and an ordering off. It was a huge lifeline for the Tangerines but there was to be another let off in the 79th minute when a diagonal ball was allowed to fall all the way to Shinnie at the far post whose well struck effort was superbly turned over by Bell. As has been the case previously this season Durnan was thrown up front before Nick Van der Velden was sent on for Fraser in a final attempt to salvage something. A stinging free kick from Dixon from 25 yards out hit a United man in the wall and deflected wide with 5 minutes to go and despite a number of high balls causing panic in the penalty area another chance wouldn’t fall to United.
Full Time Summary – It was an eventful and fiery evening but in the end the timing of Toshney’s first half red card proved to be decisive. Losing the goal so soon afterwards left United on the back foot for the majority of the game and by the time the numbers were levelled up it was too late for them to mount a comeback. All they can do now is dust themselves down and go all out in the remaining games as the battle carries on, starting at St Mirren on Wednesday night.
Man of the Match – Despite suffering the loss of a man early in the game the side battled away without really managing to pose a significant threat going forward for the most part. With the game largely played in midfield Willo Flood was involved heavily in the play throughout and did his fair share of work on a difficult night.
United – Bell, Dixon, Durnan, Fraser (Van der Velden 83), Toshney, Edjenguele, Murray, Flood, Van der Struijk, Nicholls, Andreu (Mikkelsen 63). Subs not used – Zwick, Dillon, Telfer, Robson, Murdoch.
Hibernian – Marciano, Gray, Bartley (Fyvie 68), McGinn, Holt (Graham 79), Stevenson, Boyle (Forster 86), Shinnie, McGregor, Ambrose, Cummings. Subs not used – Laidlaw, Keatings, Crane, Martin.
Attendance – 9532
Referee – Don Robertson