Following from the 5-1 aggregate win over Greenock Morton the previous week Falkirk were the semi-final opponents for United for the first leg play off encounter at Tannadice. With the deciding leg at the Falkirk Stadium on Friday night a positive result for the hosts would be crucial to their hopes of going through to the two-legged final. Boss Ray McKinnon named an unchanged side after watching the team finish the job so comfortably in the 3-0 win on Friday over the Greenock side. On a perfect night for football the feeling in both camps was that of a quiet confidence and an extremely tight game looked in prospect.
By Ally Stewart
It was a nervy opening few minutes for the home side who conceded possession on several occasions before James Craigan scooped an ambitious shot on the turn wide of Cammy Bell’s right hand post. Still feeling the effects of an earlier challenge from Nathan Austin right back Stewart Murdoch was then forced off in the 8th minute with Sean Dillon filling the void at right back. Keen to start posing an attacking threat Tony Andreu was first to test visiting goalkeeper Robert Thomson but his shot from outside the box was comfortably held. Moments later Simon Murray’s more powerful strike from long range sailed wide of the upright as the Tangerines looked increasingly threatening going forward. In the 12th minute another effort from the same position from Murray was deflected to Andreu whose effort towards goal lacked the right connection resulting in an easy save for Thomson.
The hosts were growing in confidence and a slick move again involving Andreu and Murray nearly put Blair Spittal clean through on goal but the Falkirk defence were just able to clear. Craig Sibbald had a chance to deliver a set piece from a promising area just after the quarter hour mark but sent the ball straight out of play. From the resulting goal kick his side were made to pay as United took an all-important lead. Bell sent the goal kick long up field and Thomas Mikkelsen’s headed flick put Murray clean through. The in-form striker made no mistake with the finish drilling low into the bottom corner beyond Thomson from the right side of the box for his 17th goal of the season. The visitors pushed forward looking to launch an immediate comeback and after a short spell of pressure Luke Leahy’s low ball across the face of goal was one which Bell was relieved to see run out of play. In the 26th minute a crunching tackle at the edge of the box from William Edjenguele allowed Wato Kuate to launch a counter attack with a lovely diagonal ball out wide to Murray. The striker cut in from the right flank but in the end sent his low shot well wide of target. A minute later Sibbald won possession from Kuate in midfield and played the ball wide to Joseph McKee. His pin point cross was acrobatically met first time by Craigan 8 yards out leaving Bell with no chance as the ball sailed into the top corner. Crosses into the box were making the Tangerines defence nervous and successive corners ended with Lee Miller heading into the arms of Bell inside the 6 yard area. Craigan then forced a save from Bell in the 37th minute, with the United keeper doing well to turn his low shot around the post. From the corner Bell then saved from Austin from close range as United continued to look vulnerable at the back. Another shot from Craigan, this time one which he dragged wide from outside the box, and then Sibbald with an angled drive which was held by Bell brought an end to an eventful opening first half.
After Falkirk again forced two corners shortly after the break the terrors had an opportunity to counter attack through Willo Flood who after exchanging passes with Spittal attempted a left foot shot which was never going to worry goalkeeper Thomson. In a far more telling attack in the 54th minute the hosts again took this lead and it was another man in goal scoring form who got his name on the scoresheet. Murray held the ball up beautifully after breaking from midfield and when the shooting opportunity never presented itself he instead played the ball across the area to Spittal who made no mistake with a fine angled drive which nestled in the bottom corner. Again the lead wasn’t one which the hosts could hold onto as Falkirk again got themselves level just 5 minutes later. When Flood conceded a free kick around 25 yards out there seemed to be little danger of a direct attempt on goal. McKee had other ideas however and he struck the ball cleanly and caught Bell out as the ball sailed high into the net much to the frustration of the home side. Attempting to replicate the heroics from McKee, Andreu sent a free kick over the bar from distance as he looked to again restore United’s lead. Charlie Telfer, who had just come on for Kuate, forced a save from Thomson low to his right before 5 minutes later Murray took a pass from Spittal and saw his shot saved in similar fashion. As the game entered the latter stages Spittal broke into the box and fired over after good play down the right flank before there was a huge let off for United in the 79th minute. An excellent delivery from the right by Craigan was headed into the top corner by sub John Baird only for him to see the celebrations cut short after the linesman flagged for offside. With 2 minutes remaining a deep cross from Dillon was met by the head of Mikkelsen but his floating header sailed over before right on the 90th minute he almost scored a winner with a header towards the back post which Thomson clawed away from goal with Murray also waiting to pounce. What would have been a dramatic last gasp winner was denied and an entertaining night ended with the tie poised at 2-2.
Full Time Summary
In a game which saw several shifts in momentum throughout a draw was probably a fair outcome such was the margin of difference between the sides. The deciding leg at the Falkirk Stadium was therefore set up perfectly with both sides 90 minutes away from the final and all to play for.
Man of the Match
Scorer of one and provider of the other of United’s goals on the night another energetic display from Simon Murray was the main bright light for the hosts, with Blair Spittal also standing out alongside him as the main attacking threat. In order to progress to the next stage the two players were again going to be important on Friday night.
United – Bell, Robson (Dixon 80), Edjenguele, Durnan, Murdoch (Dillon 8) Flood, Andreu, Kuate (Telfer 63), Spittal, Mikkelsen, Murray. Subs not used – Zwick, Allardice, Fraser, Nicholls.
Falkirk – Thomson, Leahy, McKee, Kerr, Sibbald (Taiwo 74) Grant, Gasparotto, Austin (McHugh 80), Miller (Baird 63), Craigan. Subs not used – Rogers, Hippolyte, Aird, Watson.
Attendance – 7034
Referee – Bobby Madden