Goals from Safranko and McMullan secure all three points and second place in the Championship.
By Ian Isbister
United went into today’s game with Inverness with the reality of last night’s win for Ross County now sinking in. County’s 3-1 victory against Ayr United at Somerset Park now means the Dingwall side are 9 points clear with United having 3 games left to play, and a big goal difference in the Highland side’s favour. With the prospect of a third season in the play-offs now a certainty, it’s important for United to finish the regular season on a high. Today’s opponents, Inverness Caledonian Thistle, are neck and neck with Ayr United in 3rd and 4th place respectively. United will be playing one of those sides in the Play-off semi-final come May.
United’s last outing was a 2-1 home win against Ayr United last Friday. Despite going behind in a poor first half, United rallied and some important substitutions with the introduction of strikers Safranko and Clark saw United snatch all 3 points.
Manager Robbie Neilson made 2 changes to his starting line-up from the Ayr game. Sow dropped out altogether and Booth to the bench to make way for Safranko and Clark.
Inverness made just one change from Tuesday’s 2-2 draw away to Greenock Morton. Walsh steps up from the bench to replace McDonald in the starting eleven.
First Half - Both sides started the game brightly and were evenly matched. United were having good possession and were unlucky after 8 minutes when a McMullan shot was deflected past for a corner with him continuing his recent run of good form by posing a serious threat to the Inverness defence. United’s first shot on goal came just 4 minutes later when a Safranko attempt was saved by MacKay in the hosts goal. The Slovakian looking to add to his 11 league goals this season.
Inverness came close in 23 minutes when a Walsh shot from distance was tipped over by Siegrist doing well to keep United in the game.
First blood went to United after 26 minutes, and it was that man Safranko. The Slovakian, on loan from Aab, hit a bold left foot shot from around the 18 yard line past MacKay into the Inverness net. No more than the visitors deserved after their efforts in the game, and a simply lovely finish from the on form striker, to the great delight of the ever faithful band of travelling Arabs.
United continued to have the better of the possession and McMullan was a constant threat to the home side.
In 32 mins, United were unlucky not to be further ahead when a Watson header came back off the bar. The defender’s height always a positive threat in the game, and unfortunate not to see his header finish in the net, and the Inverness defence doing well to clear the ball off the line after coming back off the crossbar.
Despite having the better chances, United finished the first half with just the one goal advantage. Plenty of plus points in the first 45 minutes but, as United have been all season, not enough finished product to give themselves some breathing space.
Half Time - Inverness 0 United 1
Second Half - The visitors continued to press and were quickly rewarded with the all important second goal. In 50 mins, McMullan found himself in space 12 yards out and grabbed his 5th goal of the season. There had been shouts of handball from some of the Inverness players but referee Greg Aitken waved play on and gave United the goal.
Inverness looked to find a way back into the game but were finding United’s defence in good form. A long range effort from Polworth the best they could muster.
Although Ross County’s goal difference is out of sight for United, they were clearly looking to add to the scoreline. Even Connolly, usually at home in United’s defence, had an attempt just shooting wide from close range after a neat turn.
In 74 mins, United looked certain to be 3-0 up when a Robson effort looked goal bound, Thistle’s Rooney clearing off the line with a last ditch effort. Plenty of good chances came United’s way but some last ditch defending by the Highlanders kept the scoreline respectable.
In fairness to Inverness, they did have chances in the final 10 minutes but couldn’t make the breakthrough.
McDonald in particular created opportunities since coming on midway through the second half.
In the end it was a comfortable win for United, and a game that sums up their season. What could have been a 4 or 5 goal win was eventually just the two. A good dress rehearsal with what could be the play-off semi-final. United have now beaten both Ayr and Inverness in recent weeks and manager Robbie Neilson will use the last 2 remaining games of the season to prepare for the play-offs.
Final Score - Inverness 0 United 2
Man of the Match - Paul McMullan, continuing his good recent form with plenty of running and United’s most creative player.
Inverness - MacKay (GK), Rooney, McKay, McCart, McHattie, Chalmers, Trafford, Polworth (McCauley 66 mins), Doran (Austin 58mins), Walsh (McDonald 66 mins) White,
Subs not used - Fon Williams (GK), Donaldson, McGregor, Harper,
Dundee United - Siegrist, McMullan, Clark (Nesbitt 64 mins),Safranko, Robson, Butcher (Bouhenna 75 mins), Reynolds, Watson, Harkes, Pawlett, Connolly,
Subs not used - Laidlaw (GK), Booth, Fyvie, Gomis, M. Smith,
Referee - Greg Aitken,
Assistants - Jordan Stokoe and Daniel Graves,
Inverness- McKay - Sent off for 2 yellow cards 90 mins,
United - Robson 29 mins, Butcher 42 mins,