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United's cup left empty but boys will be back for a refill

ONE was for the off, the other was up for the cup, even though he knew he had to wait at least another year.

Few of United's players enhanced their reputations  on Saturday, but Andrew Robertson was one who did. Picture: SNS
Few of United's players enhanced their reputations on Saturday, but Andrew Robertson was one who did. Picture: SNS

The trudge of the Dundee United players through the press area on Saturday spoke volumes, even though there was an understandable reluctance for most to stop and talk to the media.

Gavin Gunning, the 23-year-old United centre-back, paused, if only to say goodbye as a United player. "This is probably my last game for Dundee United. I have spoken to the manager but I do not know yet what I am doing," said the defender who answered further questions about his future with a series of "don't knows" as if he was filling in an extended questionnaire.

He has been linked with Rangers and with sides in the Sky Bet Championship and was disappointed that his farewell to the Tannadice side was his second cup final defeat, the first having come in 2011 when on loan to a Motherwell side beaten by Celtic.

"When you don't have Celtic in the final you fancy your chances. It is hard to take," he said of the 2-0 defeat to St Johnstone. "It is tough to say goodbye and it is not the way I would like to finish it. But what can you do?"

The matter of what United could have done and how they could have done it better will dominate Jackie McNamara's thoughts as he reflects on his side during the summer while also fending off bids for some of his young stars.

Only a bullish Nadir Ciftci and a buccaneering Andrew Robertson enhanced their reputations on Saturday, featuring in United's best moments.

The striker hit the bar with a fine free kick and Robertson's first-half cross was turned on to the post by Ryan Dow. But Gary Mackay-Steven and Stuart Armstrong were peripheral and Ryan Gauld could not influence the match when he came on.

St Johnstone's energetic but strategic defending mostly nullified United and Steven Anderson's crucial goal on the cusp of half-time exposed United's weakness at set-pieces. "It was a terrible time to concede but at half-time we were still confident," said Keith Watson, who at 24 seems a veteran in the United ranks.

"We knew we could go out and create chances and still win the game but it wasn't to be. There weren't a lot of chances in the first half but I felt we controlled it and were the better side.

"But that was a sucker punch right at the end of it and we went in a wee bit down. But we got back up for it again and were ready and buzzing to go out for the second half. But it just wasn't [to be]. We just didn't get the break we needed."

There was, of course, more to it than just that. McNamara will seek to strengthen his central defence. His chairman, Stephen Thompson, has said that United are already looking at five players. Most of them, surely, will be defenders.

Watson was brisk about any suggestions that United "froze" on the day. "No, everybody gave 100%, worked hard and you can't fault that. It just didn't happen for us on the day," he said.

United did not suffer from a lack of effort but from a deficit of composure. They threw too many long balls forward to the powerful Ciftci but his team-mates could not link cohesively with the striker and United's attacking play had a staccato, unsatisfactory pattern, lacking its normal fluidity.

The defeat is an obvious and draining disappointment for United's management, players and fans but it offers lessons as well as inviting criticism. It is the former that McNamara and his team will be reflecting on in the summer.

Watson was bruised by the afternoon, adding: "We were wanting to party on the bus going back to Tannadice, but it wasn't to be. We have a couple of days to get our heads round it then most of us will go away on a break then get ready to go again next season.

"I just want to put the final to the back of my mind now. It's over and done with and nothing is going to change it. We'll learn from it and take it into next season."

This is a mature reaction from a young player. Asked if he was optimistic about next season, he replied quickly: "Definitely. We have shown great performances this season and it is a pity that we've gone out and lost the final 2-0.

"It's obviously a huge blow but we can take positives from the season as a whole and look forward to the next one. We have a good group of boys, so if we get a good break then a good pre-season under our belts, we will be firing at the start of the season."

Saturday brought a sobering lesson for United. But the campaign has showcased their potential.

The boys can be back in town for another final next season.

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