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Thrilling scorelines do not wash with goalkeeper if he loses a clean sheet

STRANGE folk, goalkeepers.

Most people who saw Dundee United's 4-1 victory over Hearts last weekend found themselves drooling in appreciation at the performances and goals from attacking talent such as Ryan Gauld, Gary Mackay-Steven and Stuart Armstrong. Radoslaw Cierzniak celebrated another victory for his team but went home in a bit of a huff at having been beaten by Jamie Hamill's penalty, a strike that denied the goalkeeper the much- cherished treasure of a clean sheet.

The Pole speaks with an almost paternal pride about United's young flourishing talent - at 30 years old he had started high school by the time 17 year olds Gauld and John Souttar were born - but, given the choice, he would much rather have 1-0 victories every week than 4-1 or 5-1 thrillers. Goalkeepers regard clean sheets as sacrosant, making any concession -even a consolation - unacceptable.

"Last week I was disappointed that, although we scored four great goals, I conceded one," he said. "Keeping clean sheets is very important for me and for Hinchie [goalkeeping coach Craig Hinchcliffe] as well. Our target before every game is to keep a clean sheet. After the last game I was happy we won 4-1 but still frustrated that we lost a goal.

"We haven't conceded a lot this year so it hurts even more when we do. The way we have been scoring, the fans are maybe expecting us to win by four or five goals every week but the most important thing is that we get three points and I keep a clean sheet. I don't care if we win by one goal."

Such has been United's dominance of many of their recent matches that the 30-year-old has found himself idle for large spells at a time. "The way the team is attacking at the moment actually makes it difficult for the keeper as I might only have one or two saves to make in a game," he added. "You have to be switched on all the time. This is a new experience as I have never played in a team like this. It is a real test for me as it is very easy for the goalkeeper to make a mistake if the team is on the front foot all the time.

"However, it is a good problem to have. Our attacking play is great to watch and everyone is enjoying themselves. This is definitely the most exciting group of young lads I have played with."

Jackie McNamara, his manager, has spoken about the need to foster a positive team mentality around the United camp, something his goalkeeper confirmed is very much in operation. "At the moment we are like a family," added Cierzniak. "It's not just on the pitch or in the dressing room, we meet up after training in Dundee for a coffee or go to the cinema. It is great. There is nothing worse than thinking, 'Oh, no, we have training'. But here, everyone is happy to go to training. Maybe this is why we are having good results."

Next for United is a trip to Rugby Park this afternoon to play a Kilmarnock side they defeated convincingly in the William Hill Scottish Cup just a few weeks ago. "I am expecting a very difficult game," added Cierzniak. "Even although we won 5-2 against them the last time I have a lot of respect for them. I saw the highlights of their win against Ross County last week so I am ready for a tricky match down there. But we are in such good form, we must be confident of winning the game."

While United's goalkeeper was talking up his squad at Tannadice, hundreds of miles away his opposite number, Craig Samson, was holding court at Kilmarnock's training facility. The big goalkeeper is a boisterous fellow, and answers questions as if he were bellowing through spilled ale, mid-quaff, in a rowdy viking longhouse.

"Last week [victory away to Ross County] was a big result for us," he boomed. "We've been needing to get a win, there's no hiding away from that. I think we went up to Ross County and had to make a lot of changes in the team and it showed that the boys are capable of stepping in and putting in performances."

He was full of praise for what is the most talked about group of kids in Scotland. "What you'll see with United is confidence," he thundered. "Their guys are playing with a lot of freedom, they're going into games just full of confidence. A lot of them are young lads and they feel the freedom to be able to go wherever they like to go and show the movement on the pitch and express themselves.

"That comes from winning games. We're not going in there thinking they are unbeatable because they're not unbeatable.

"We know that they are a great attacking side, scored a hell of a lot of goals and it's down to myself and the boys at the back, maybe, to try to shut up shop and give players like Kris Boyd oppportunities to win the game."

Kilmarnock have depended too much on Boyd at times this season, the Scotland internationalist often toiling up front with little service from a toothless midfield. And Samson acknowledged that others need to start chipping in with goals to give the striker some support.

"We can't rely on Kris Boyd to win us games of football," he said. "We know he's quality but wee Chrissy Johnston has stepped up in the last couple of game and scored big goals. We've got height, we've got goals from set pieces and the boys are all trying to chip in with goals."

Kilmarnock, though, have some kids of their own, and the poor form displayed by most of their stalwarts in recent weeks has allowed those youngsters to seize their chance. "We have, we've got a lot of good kids, in the team," added Samson.

"I think last weekend Lee Ashcroft came in against Ross County and we had to change it up. He was fantastic, our best player that week. The young boys at this club are second to none."

The away fans today may disagree.

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