27 October 2012
Dundee United picked up a first SPL win since the early weeks of the season as a Johnny Russell penalty saw them edge out St Mirren.
The striker notched his fifth goal of the season - and first league strike since August - to grab a hugely important three points for Peter Houston's side.
Houston stuck with the same line-up that put in an encouraging performance against Aberdeen in last weekend's 1-1 draw at Tannadice, meaning skipper Jon Daly again took his place in the heart of the defence alongside Sean Dillon, the loyal club servant who this week signed an extension to his contract.
United dominated possession in the early stages, playing a lot of tidy passing movements around the midfield without actually managing to breach the St Mirren defence. But for all the enterprising play, it was a quarter of an hour before Mark Millar became the first player to test Craig Samson, still smarting from conceding five goals against Celtic last week, when his 20 yard effort had to be saved at the second attempt.
St Mirren then threatened for the first time, when Gavin Gunning had to come to the rescue to play the ball out for a corner following a bit of uncertainty in the heart of United's defence, then the resultant Graham Carey cross was headed narrowly behind the post by Lee Mair.
With just about 25 minutes on the clock, and both teams still struggling to break through each others' defence, Jim Goodwin - something of a spectacular goal specialist - found the ball fall for him kindly and tried to lob in a 30-yard effort that dipped just over Rado Cierzniak's goal.
As half time neared, Keith Watson showed some good skill on the right to battle past his marker then drive in an effort from a tight angle that Samson had to hold well.
Half time: United had started the game well by dominating possession and playing some nice passing movements, although they had not really managed to threaten Craig Samson's goal. However, as the game went on, St Mirren managed to grab the initiative and ended the half looking like the most likely side to score.
After a second half that had started in a similar vein to the first, United very nearly broke the deadlock. The lively Millar went down under a challenge from Goodwin, then Willo Flood swung in a free kick that Gunning headed off the bar. As St Mirren tried to clear the rebound, Gunning managed to stab in another effort that spun past the post.
Set-pieces appeared to be St Mirren's main chance of a goal and Cierzniak had to be alert to fist away a dangerous Armstrong corner.
Mark Millar became the first player to go into the book, as he was late in a challenge with Dougie Imrie. He then left the field to be replaced by Richie Ryan, and Rudi Skacel came on to a rousing reception from the 573 United fans, in place of Michael Gardyne.
A defensive mix-up nearly gifted the home side the lead, as Watson blasted a clearance off Guy that had to be desperately collected by Cierzniak.
Midway through the half, United took advantage of a horrendous mistake to take the lead. A Flood corner was headed across goal by Gunning and Lee Mair inexcusably handled when it appeared just as easy to clear his lines. Johnny Russell's penalty nestled in the back of the net despite a brave effort from Samson, who got a hand on it but didn't get enough of a touch to divert it beyond the post.
As St Mirren tried to get back into the game, United had another fraught moment in defence when Ryan intercepted a pass into the box and Cierzniak was unsure of whether he could pick the ball up, before eventually clearing his lines. Goodwin then had a long-range effort that the Polish 'keeper had to hold well, before Carey had a woeful effort from a promising position after a clever knock-down by Thompson, with the ball actually being diverted away from goal.
St Mirren were trying to get back into the game and Parkin fired past the post after being well teed up by Thompson, then Watson had to bravely head clear as Parkin again bore down on goal.
It was an edgy last few minutes from United, as they struggled to clear their lines as the home side pressed for an equaliser. One of several goalmouth scrambles led to Goodwin blasting an effort off Rankin then firing the rebound wide.
As the game neared the final minutes of injury time, United nearly polished off the win as Skacel broke free to lay the ball off for Dow, only for his cut-back to come off a defender and be fired over by Rankin. But by then United had done enough to ensure a vital win.
Full time: St Mirren 0 United 1
A hard-earned three points that built on the momentum of last week's draw with Aberdeen to help United get back on track in the league.
Man of the match: Sean Dillon: After signing a contract extension in midweek, the ever-reliable pro showed his worth to United with a determined display in the heart of the defence.
St Mirren: Samson; Van Zanten, Dummet, Mair, McAusland; Goodwin, Robertson (Teale, 80), Imrie (Reilly, 86), Carey; Thompson, Guy (Parkin, 73)
SUBS: Smith, Barron, McGinn, Reilly, Teale
United: Cierzniak; Watson, Gunning, Daly, Dillon; Rankin, Millar (Ryan, 66), Armstrong (Dow, 80), Flood; Russell, Gardyne (Skacel, 66)
SUBS: Banks, Douglas, McLean, Dow, Hilson