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Dundee United 1 Ross County 0: One to remember

THE light-hearted suggestion was made last week that, should Dundee United fail to score at least four goals for a sixth consecutive match when they hosted Ross County, the supporters would be underwhelmed.

Gary Mackay-Steven is shut down by Rocco Quinn, but the Dundee United winger later got the winning goal Photograph: SNS
Gary Mackay-Steven is shut down by Rocco Quinn, but the Dundee United winger later got the winning goal Photograph: SNS

"It's almost as if the fans would be disappointed with two or three," said full-back Keith Watson. In the event, a larger than usual crowd at Tannadice yesterday were only given cause to celebrate once, but the manner in which they cheered Jackie McNamara's side off suggested they were not unduly troubled by the scarcity of goals.

And little wonder. After all, how often do they watch their team record a sixth victory in a row? This triumph was the most nervy of the sextet but in a way it was more rewarding for the manager. Rewarding because his side handled the pressure of an 8000-strong support anticipating an easy win and showed composure and intelligence to eventually break down their resolute visitors. "We had them penned in and they were trying to waste time but we were excellent," McNamara said. "We kept our patience and we got our reward. There's a lot of expectation on us, but it doesn't scare us because we can handle it."

They were also able to handle the fact that County came south to stifle them and succeeded for the best part of 70 minutes. That resistance was founded on doing the basics correctly: tracking runners, winning headers and making sure they were first to any loose balls. Derek Adams' side did, however, also adopt the bold approach of holding a high line and attempting to catch United offside; bold because of the pace in the home team and because of the defensive frailties that had prevented County keeping a clean sheet in their previous seven outings.

For the most part, it worked. Brian Graham did have the ball in the net inside the opening 12 minutes, rolling in a cutback after Andy Robertson had been picked out wonderfully by John Rankin, but the back four had stepped up just in time and did so again to deny Gary Mackay-Steven in a similar situation. "They tried to open us up, but we didn't really give them the opportunity," said Adams. "We kept the scoreline down to one so we have to be happy with that."

United had slightly more success when attacking in wide areas, with both Mihael Kovacevic and Ben Gordon regularly discomfited by surges down the flanks. That twice allowed Graham to test Michael Fraser with headers, the first a tame nod from a Robertson delivery and the second a more powerful effort that extended the goalkeeper more fully. However, for all that United had plenty of possession and pressure, that was one of the rare occasions Fraser was called into action.

The feted front four struggled to find space so it was little surprise when Jackie McNamara introduced Nadir Ciftci and David Goodwillie for Graham and Ryan Gauld. The effect was almost immediate. From yet another United corner - there were 21 in total - the Turk's guided volley was thwarted by a magnificent Fraser stop, but there was little the goalkeeper could do a couple of minutes later as the hosts finally scored their 22nd goal in six matches. Goodwillie capitalised on Gordon's slip to advance down the right and, although his pass inside was behind Ciftci, Scott Boyd also lost his footing to allow Stuart Armstrong to gallop onto the ball. He picked out Mackay-Steven, who swept a fine finish into the far corner.

To suggest the goal was harsh on County would be to give the wrong impression because, for all Adams' side defended manfully, they rarely menaced United's back four. Sole striker Kevin Luckassen acted as a redoubtable reference point and a target for the deliveries of such as Graham Carey and Richard Brittain and the latter spurned perhaps County's clearest chance, lashing wide from 14 yards, but Carey went even closer when his devilish free-kick reared off the turf and kissed Radoslaw Cierzniak's crossbar.

That County offered next to nothing in an attacking sense after the break spoke of the amount of defensive work they had to do. The visitors dropped deeper and deeper and, although they did make a gallant late attempt to rescue a point, the closest they came was Darren Maatsen's wayward jab at another Carey cross. "Dundee United were very good and we tried to compete with them, but they are in a different league," said Adams, whose side have lost seven of their last eight games. "Our players gave their all, but it wasn't enough. We're just trying to stay in the Premiership; that's our priority."

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