23 May 19
The Scottish Sun
NINETY minutes of a long, long league campaign to go.
And we still don’t have a clue who the 12th team in the top flight will be come August.
Ryan Flynn clears Peter Pawlett’s shot on the line
It’s that tight between the second-bottom in the Premiership and the second-top in the Championship.
After a night low on quality but rammed with tension and energy, with noise and with non-stop niggle, they go back to Paisley on Sunday for what’s now basically a cup final.
It’s without doubt the biggest meeting between these two since a rainy afternoon at Hampden 32 years ago last week, when one swing of the boot handed the Saints the Scottish Cup at United’s expense.
Don’t kid yourself for one moment the prize up for the grabs here means any less than that glinting silverware – even if only because the penalty for failure is so unthinkable.
Jamie Robson holds off Kyle McAllister
Dundee United: Siegrist 8, Watson 6, Connolly 6, Reynolds 6, Robson 6, Bouhenna 7, Harkes 5, Pawlett 5 (Booth 72, 3), McMullan 7, Clark 5 (Stanton 68, 4), Sow 5 (Safranko 60, 4).
St Mirren: Hladky 6, P McGinn 6, MacKenzie 7, Popescu 5, Hodson 6, S McGinn 6, Flynn 6, Baird 6, McAllister 7, Magennis 7, Cooke 6 (Mullen 90, 2).
MAN OF THE MATCH
Benjy Siegrist wasn’t overworked during this ninety minutes but in the two moments he was asked to get involved the big keeper excelled.
First he pulled off a great save in the first-half to push away Kyle McAllister’s shot and then after the break his reflect stop to keep out Josh Magennis at the back post was even better.
On a night of little quality, the Swiss stopper stood head and shoulders above everyone else.
MAN IN THE MIDDLE
Bobby Madden booked Ryan Flynn early on in this contest for a high boot on Ian Harkes which left the United man needing treatment.
But that certainly wasn’t a sign of things to come as the whistler took a very relaxed attitude to the remainder of the game.
Other refs would have been reaching for their pocket regularly to punish the pushing, pulling, kicking and sneaky tripping that went on here, but Madden happily lets it go.
In some ways he’s a breath of fresh air. Yellow carded Rachid Bouhenna late on.
MEN IN THE DUGOUT
Robbie Neilson will go away from this thinking his team still have a real chance of going through.
United showed they can compete with St Mirren but will need to shore up the gaps in their midfield if they are to succeed on Sunday.
Oran Kearney will have been cursing Benjy Siegrist for his two saves but won’t assume the second leg of this contest will go the way of the home team easily.
Mark Connolly receives treatment
In front of 11,062 – the biggest Tannadice gate since a 6-2 derby win four years back – they ducked and weaved, they prodded and parried, they tip-tied around each other as if on eggshells, all so obviously desperate not to be the one who sold the shirts and wrecked the season.
Didn’t matter that so many dropped point along the way, so many missed chances and fluffed clearances had brought them here; now, in the brightest of spotlights, one mistake could have had massive consequences for futures, for jobs, for career.
No wonder every second touch a tackle, most of the ones in between a mistake and just about everything else a foul.
When in doubt, they either hoofed the ball or the nearest opponent.
The first half was a morass of mediocrity peppered with two half-decent chances for either side.
Five minutes in, home danger man Paul McMullan picked the Saints defensive lock to leave Ian Harkes all alone ten yards out, but Paul McGinn hammered across to slide and block for a corner.
On 15, Saints winger Kyle McAllister clipped a free-kick into the box from wide on the right and back-pedalling defender Mark Reynolds was so lucky his header flew straight into the grateful hands of keeper Benjamin Siegrist.
Then, six minutes after that, another Saints set-piece went all wrong, Nicky Clark whacked up to halfway, Osman Sow dummied and suddenly McMullan was scampering away from Mihai Popescu.
Rachid Bouhenna blocks Gary MacKenzie
Every Arab in the stadium was on their feet, waiting for the net to ripple.
Instead, Vaclav Hladky narrowed the angle, spread himself and saved with his legs.
Four minutes from the break, it was Ryan Flynn up to Kyle Magennis, a little ball round the corner and McAllister ran at the retreating defence before picking out a shot for the far top corner that Siegrist lept to parry away.
A bit of TV save? Probably – but the BT Sport director will have been delighted to have SOMETHING dramatic to put in a highlights package.
And anyway, within a minute of the restart, the Swiss shotstopper was producing a flash of genuine brilliance to keep his team level.
Saints worked the ball down the right, Flynn flung a cross beyond the far post – and when Lee Hodson craned to nod back into the path of Magennis, only an instinctive hand thrust down by Siegrist’s right knee deflected the volley behind.
That was the catalyst for a string of corners as last year’s Championship winners tried to up the ante.
But fair play to United, they weathered the storm and cranked up some pressure of their own, Nicky Clark haring down the right to pull back a delicious ball that no one gambled on reaching.
Stephen McGinn is tackled by Bouhenna
[article-rail-section title=”MOST READ IN FOOTBALL” posts_category=”3″ posts_number=”6″ query_type=”popular” /]
The biggest Tannadice gate since a 6-2 derby win four years back responded, the whole place standing, noise levels rising.
You sensed that something was about to give – only question was, at which end?
Robbie Neilson was first throw the dugout dice, the lumbering Sow off and Pavol Safranko – top scorer, named Player of the Year by team-mates and fans alike – arrived to give the Saints back three a new set of problems.
The switch seemed to unsettle them, the normally sure-handed Hladky coming for and missing McMullan’s corner, Mark Connolly heading it into the mixer and Flynn flying to hook away from under the bar.
As the minutes and seconds ticked down, one last and scramble in the Saints box, home left-back Jamie Robson cutting in for a skimming drive Hladky got down to shovel away, before veteran stopper Gary McKenzie plunged in to make sure no one squeezed the scraps over the line.
With it, it was done. Or at least, half done.
You can’t imagine Sunday will be any more open and flowing than this was. But if it’s as captivating to be in among, bring it on.
Keep up to date with ALL the latest news and transfers from Scottish football plus fixtures, results and live match commentary
[bc_video video_id=”6040419863001″ account_id=”5067014667001″ player_id=”default” embed=”in-page” padding_top=”56%” autoplay=”” min_width=”0px” max_width=”640px” width=”100%” height=”100%” caption=”Lingard clumsily grazes knee after recreating Man United’s historic 1999 Champions League final goal with Rashford”]