A SECOND notable win for Dundee United in the space of a week but both delivered in vastly different circumstances.

If Tam Courts’ side had been well worthy of their league

victory over Rangers at

Tannadice, then they needed a huge dollop of luck here before squeezing past Ayr United and into the quarter-finals of the Premier Sports Cup.

Trailing to Tomi Adeloye’s strike and well under the cosh, the Premiership side were 10 minutes from exiting the tournament when they were awarded

a contentious penalty after Jack Baird and Ryan Edwards contested a ball into the box.

Referee Nick Walsh felt Baird’s challenge had been

illegal, awarded the spot kick and also sent off the defender for a second yellow card.

From being utterly dominant, 10-man Ayr were suddenly on the back foot.

David Hopkin’s side did well to keep United at bay during extra-time only to succumb 4-3 in the shoot-out.

It wasn’t pretty but the Premiership side had “found a solution” to progress.

“It was always going to be

different to last week and thankfully the boys stuck at the task and we’re through,” said a relieved Courts.

“It’s great for them. I’ve been adamant about the fact we hadn’t progressed out of the groups in the last three years. That was the first target and now we are one game from Hampden.”

In contrast, David Hopkin wore the look of a man who’d just been pickpocketed on the street, scarcely able to process that his team had been knocked out.

“We went for Dundee United and anyone at the game knows only one team should have won,” he sighed.

“The decision to give a penalty was horrific. It’s never a penalty. The ball is out of the pitch, no-one claims for it and the referee decided to get involved in the game. To then send Jack off makes it even worse.”

Ayr had progressed through their League Cup group without losing a goal and they played here like a team not short in confidence.

The Championship side created a sprinkling of first-half chances, most notably through Adeloye who did well to control Jordan Houston’s pass on his chest but couldn’t steer his shot on target.

James Maxwell was similarly wasteful as space opened up in front of him, the United fans congregated behind the goal in greater danger from his subsequent shot than Benjamin Siegrist was in the visitors’ goal.

Maxwell – the teenager on loan from Rangers – was at the heart of most of Ayr’s play and had yet another chance early in the second half.

Michael Hewitt picked him out with the cross and Maxwell’s volley was unconvincingly pushed over the bar by Siegrist like a fisherman trying to guddle a trout.

When Andy Murdoch then shot narrowly wide it felt like an Ayr goal was in the post and it duly arrived after 55 minutes.

Mark McKenzie knocked the ball through to Adeloye, and although the Englishman’s first effort was saved, the rebound fell kindly into his path and he calmly walked the ball into the empty net.

Confidence through the roof, Maxell then adroitly turned away from Jeando Fuchs before unleashing another effort that Siegrist held onto.

Ayr were undoubtedly in the ascendancy but couldn’t make it count. Much of that was down to Siegrist, who pushed away a 30-yard strike from Patrick Reading and then somehow contorted his frame to push McKenzie’s effort on to the bar and over when a second goal seemed an inevitability.

United were clinging on and found salvation with an equaliser 10 minutes before the end of regulation time with that soft penalty award.

McAdams went the right way but Clark’s penalty found the corner and from then on it was just whether Ayr could hold out.

It was one-way traffic as McNulty missed from close range, Liam Smith struck the post and Clark was denied by a good save.

Ayr did well to take it to penalties but by then their luck had run out.

“Siegrist had pulled off two world class saves to keep Dundee United in the game,” added Hopkin. “My keeper didn’t have a save to make but we’re out of the cup.”