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United began season 2010-11 in buoyant mood as Scottish Cup holders, for only the second time in their history, and looking to keep up their impressive Premier League form which saw them finish 3rd the previous season. Notable newcomers to the Cup winning squad were Barry Douglas and Scott Severin. Prominent departures were Andy Webster, who had captained the side to Cup glory, Damian Casalinuovo and Francisco Sandaza.
Reward for their Cup exploits the previous season was qualifying for the Europa League in August. Their first foray against foreign opposition since 2005 came against Greek side AEK Athens in the Play-Off round. A hard fought 1-0 defeat at Tannadice proved to be United’s undoing as they earned a credible 1-1 draw in the return leg. Due to the tie being switched to the ground of fierce rivals Olympiakos, with home fans banned, only the 600 Arabs saw Jon Daly score a late equaliser.
The League campaign kicked off with a 1-1 draw away to St Mirren and was followed by a disappointing 4-0 home defeat to Inverness. Such erratic results typified United’s form for the first few months of the season. Notable wins against Aberdeen, Hibernian and St Johnstone were sandwiched between disappointing defeats against Rangers, St Mirren and Motherwell.
United entered the Scottish League Cup at the 3rd round stage with an away tie against Ross County. It took 120 minutes to eventually beat the Highlanders 2-1 in Dingwall. However, but another away tie at the quarter-final stage ended Tannadice interest after being beaten 1-0 by Motherwell at Fir Park in October.
There was a sense of de-ja-vu for United when they also progressed to the last eight of the Scottish Cup, again losing out to Motherwell. After a 0-0 draw in the 4th round at Tannadice against Ross County, United fans were treated to one of those great away days with a 4-3 penalty shoot-out replay victory against the Staggies. This set up another away tie for the 5th round, against Hamilton Accies. United’s 3-1 victory came courtesy of goals from Jon Daly, Paul Dixon and Prince Buaben. Sadly, United couldn’t emulate the previous season’s Cup victory despite taking Motherwell to a replay at Fir Park after a 2-2 draw at Tannadice. United’s first equaliser in that game was a contender for goal of the season with David Goodwillie’s overhead kick at the Shed end. The 3-0 replay defeat ended United’s hold on the Scottish Cup.
United’s League form rallied in March and into April with six successive wins, ending with a 3-2 win over Rangers at Ibrox. That late rally helped United to a fourth-placed finish, just two points behind Hearts who were third, thus ensuring another Europa League sortie.