"I ALWAYS watch Barcelona." The comment was an aside by a blushing Gary Mackay-Steven, an attempt to divert the conversation away from the Lionel Messi comparisons that emanated from the raucous Dundee United support on Saturday.

Predicated particularly on one outrageous exhibition of footwork that enabled the winger to shuffle away from three Hibernian defenders and lash a shot over the bar, the chants might have been fanciful, but another Catalan connection perhaps holds more resonance for the 21-year-old and his awestruck Tannadice colleagues.

The notion of the cantera, of young players emerging together and establishing themselves in the first team, has long been treasured at Camp Nou; indeed, Messi, Cesc Fabregas and Gerard Pique were team-mates in their early teens. Granted, the fortunes of the two clubs have dramatically diverged since United won in Barcelona almost exactly 25 years ago, but maybe the current crop can learn something from the fidelity of their stellar contemporaries and their pursuit of a common goal.

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When asked about the potential of suitors turning the heads of Mackay-Steven or Johnny Russell during the summer, Peter Houston conceded that excessive offers would be considered, but appeared satisfied that both players appreciate that they are not yet ready to take the next step, not least because they are both contracted for some time.

The words of Mackay-Steven enhanced that view. "For sure, I see my future here because Dundee United gave me a chance and I'm enjoying my football," he said. "I feel with the team we've got we can go places and we're a close-knit bunch, which I think shows on the pitch."

Certainly, the way in which the two brightest stars in Houston's constellation shone in the second half on Saturday suggested as much.

It could be argued that the reputation Mackay-Steven has attracted in recent weeks has been out of proportion with his overall performances, yet that fails to cognise that, even in his quieter games, the Highlander has created opportunities for his colleagues. Take Saturday, for example; barely noticeable in the opening period, he was unplayable for a 25-minute spell after the interval, before slipping into the gathering gloom once the outcome was beyond doubt.

What Hibs manager Pat Fenlon would give for a player capable of such a game-changing contribution.

While doughty for an hour, Hibs' hopes were ended by the concession of the opening goal, the absence of creativity among the home players manifest in their lack of chances. Leigh Griffiths was sparky in the first half but, one effort which cannoned against an upright apart, neither he nor his colleagues threatened to breach a well-marshalled United defence, never mind Dusan Pernis' goal.

After a week spent denying the existence of a fight, there was plenty of spirit about the Easter Road side, but precious little guile or imagination – and perhaps even a sense of helplessness about their plight as Dunfermline Athletic edged to within three points at the bottom of the division.

"It's very difficult to keep losing," said defender Pa Kujabi. "Every one of us is willing to do more, but football is strange; sometimes you want to do more but when you come out on the pitch it is different. Everyone is frustrated; we want to be in the middle of the table."