DUNDEE United will take on either Hamilton or Inverness Caledonian Thistle in the two-legged Premiership play-off final next week and attempt to win promotion into the top flight at the first time of asking after this gutsy and unexpected win.

Trailing 1-0 on the night and 4-3 on aggregate at half-time having conceded an early goal to James Craigen and been outplayed for much of the first half, things were looking decidedly ominous for the Tannadice club.

But Ray McKinnon's men fought back superbly, drew level through Simon Murray and then, with just three minutes of regulation time left to play, edged in front through an arching Paul Dixon header. Their long-suffering supporters were unable to contain their elation at the final whistle.

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United’s relegation from the Premiership last season was a protracted and agonising one. They have often been unconvincing in the Championship this term. Not even their most blinkered follower would have backed them to go up at times. But could they be about to come good when it matters the most? On the evidence of this display it is entirely possible.

No other club can have suffered such heartache since the play-offs were reintroduced four years ago as hapless Falkirk. They have now failed to win that elusive promotion through the end-of-season series on three occasions.

None of their failures, however, can have hurt as badly as this one. But Peter Houston’s side only have themselves to blame. Their second half performance left much to be desired. Their rivals showed far more fight and greater composure under intense pressure and deserve to still have their hopes of going up alive today.

United’s recent track record on the artificial surface at Westfield was hardly encouraging going into the match. They had lost both of their away games against their opponents this season and had conceded six goals in the process.

Tony Andreu tried his luck with an ambitious effort from just outside the area in only the fourth minute. But his miscued attempt failed to trouble Robbie Thomson in the Falkirk goal and spun well wide.

Their hosts, whose passing was precise and movement off the ball constant, looked the far likelier of the two teams to net early on. It was no great surprise to anyone in the stadium when they edged in front after 11 minutes.

John Baird received the ball from Aaron Muirhead and laid it off to the rapidly advancing Craigen. The midfielder’s powerful low shot eluded the clutches of Cammy Bell, struck the inside of the left post, spun across the goal line and into the net. Advantage Falkirk.

United, though, contained their adversaries after falling behind. They dealt well with the crosses and high balls which were continually shelled into their box and gained more of a foothold in proceedings as the game wore on.

Thomas Mikkelsen went close in the 24th minute after getting on the end of a Dixon ball into the Falkirk area. His header sailed just over the crossbar.

The pressure of the occasion was palpable inside the stadium and it all clearly got the better of United assistant manager Stuart Garden who was spoken to by referee Kevin Clancy after straying out of the technical area.

United centre half William Edjenguele rifled the ball off the crossbar and into the Falkirk net five minutes into the second half after the ball fell to him on the edge of the area at a Blair Spittal corner. But Clancy ruled that Mikkelsen had fouled Paul Watson in the build-up and disallowed it.

United, however, were throwing everyone forward in a desperate attempt to get back on level terms and they should have drawn level five minutes later. The tenacity and trickery of Murray out wide teed up Andreu inside the Falkirk box and the forward struck the side netting.

Murray himself forced a fine save from Thomson in the 57th minute after meeting a Sean Dillon cross with a diving header.

The visitors’ sudden spell of dominance sparked the home team, who replaced Joe McKee with Tom Taiwo and Baird with Bob McHugh, into life and they went close with two near misses in the space of just three minutes.

Luke Leahy supplied Craigen, who flipped the ball just past the post, and then squared the ball across the front of an inviting goal, only to see Nathan Austin narrowly fail to connect.

McKinnon made a double substitution, bringing on Scott Fraser and Charlie Telfer for Willo Flood and Mikkelsen respectively. The fresh legs gave United a noticeable lift and Murray forced another save from Thomson.

Nobody could begrudge the Tannadice club their equaliser even if it did arise out of an error by Muirhead. Murray pounced and curled a right foot shot into the bottom right corner. It was his 18th strike of the 2016/17 campaign and the most important.

Alex Nicholls, who had replaced Fraser after the replacement hbbled off, floated a high ball into the Falkirk box with three minutes remaining and Dixon outjumped the home team’s defenders and nodded the ball into the net to spark wild celebrations behind the goal.

The turnout at the Falkirk Stadium – a crowd of 7,926 turned up to watch an game which was live on television – was decent and the atmosphere generated by both sets of supporters lively. Either club would improve the top flight. But only United now have that chance.