[media-credit name=”© Brian Doyle | Scotzine.com” align=”alignleft” width=”300″][/media-credit]Gavin Gunning, Sean Dillon, and Johnny Russell shook of knocks in time for the match; however, a knee problem meant Gary Mackay-Steven missed out for the home side.
Nicky Riley was a surprise starter for Dundee, recovering from injury to replace Mark Stewart in the only change from the team which lost 0-2 to St. Mirren last weekend. New boy Martin Boyle had to settle for a place on the bench, while Kevin McBride and Carl Finnigan did not feature due to injury.
Dundee were the quicker of the two sides to settle in the match and created the first opportunity. Nicky Riley skipped inside past Gavin Gunning before playing the ball out to James McAlister on the right-wing; Riley continued his run into the box and got on the end of McAlister’s cross at the near post, only to be denied by two point-blank saves from Radoslaw Cierzniak in United’s goal before the tangerines scrambled the ball out for a corner. Davide Grassi failed to direct his header from the resulting corner goalward but the start was an encouraging one for the SPL newcomers.
Dundee’s John Baird was brought down by Richie Ryan on the right as Dundee continued to press forward and thereafter Ryan Conroy’s freekick was knocked out of play for the away side’s second corner, but Daly cleared to relieve the pressure on United.
In a rare foray into the Dundee half, Daly exchanged a neat one-two with Rankin in the middle of the park before Rankin sprayed the ball out to Russell on the left.
Russell jinked past Kyle Benedictus and won United a freekick just a few yards outside the box. Willo Flood’s in-swinger to the back post was missed by Rab Douglas, leaving Gavin Gunning to rise and head the ball into the net to give the hosts the lead on 14 minutes.
Dundee continued to enjoy the majority of the possession after United’s opener, but lacked the guile to get in behind the United defence.
United threatened again in the 27th minute as Gardyne glided past Irvine down Dundee’s right and cut the ball back to Daly just inside the box; however, Grassi done well to get his body in-front of Daly’s volley to deflect the goal-bound shot wide for a corner.
United began to cut through the Dundee defence with ease and an acrobatic back-heel from John Rankin, when found unmarked inside the Dundee box, illustrated the space United were beginning to find, despite the effort going wide of goal.
Ryan Conroy fired a left-footed shot from distance wide of goal from about 30 yards out as Dundee failed to create any real opportunities beyond Riley’s early chance.
Rankin received the ball from Daly just inside the Dundee half and was given time and space to run at the Dundee defence; the little midfielder accepted that invitation and carried the ball toward the box before playing Russell in behind Irvine. Russell’s shot on his left foot looked to be going wide but a deflection off a Dens defender saw the ball nestle into the bottom right hand corner to make it 2-0 to United in the 35th minute.
Russell grabbed his second and United’s third with a sublime individual effort in the 38th minute. Russell found himself in space on the right-wing before cutting inside onto his favoured left foot and firing a powerful shot into the top right corner. Douglas will be disappointed with his role in United’s opener but there was little the keeper could have done to prevent the second or third goals.
Without playing particularly well United found themselves 3-0 up at the interval. Dundee had controlled the ball well at times in the half but were impotent in attack. Experience in the top flight and in big-game occasions, as well as a gulf in quality, were the differences between the two-sides in the first 45 minutes.
Douglas could only parry Richie Ryan’s effort from outside the box as United sought to extend their lead five minutes into the second half. The parry fell to Keith Watson, who clipped the ball in for Daly at the back post and only an excellent save from Douglas prevented Daly’s downward header finding the back of the net – Douglas somewhat atoning for his error at United’s opener.
[media-credit name=”© Brian Doyle | Scotzine.com” align=”alignleft” width=”300″][/media-credit]As Dundee grew increasingly frustrated at the scoreline fouls crept into the match, producing a double sending-off mid-way through the second half. Russell kicked out in response to a late tackle by Dens captain Stephen O’Donnell, who in turn threw an arm at the United goalscorer. United’s Cierzniak received a yellow in the aftermath after a stramash ensued between players from both sides.
The dismissals provided the last real action of the match as a flutter of substitutions took the sting out of the game and both sides appeared to settle with the score-line as it was.
Although it is very early in the season, United sit top of the SPL, having scored six and conceded none in their opening two fixtures. Despite not playing as well as they had done against Hibs two weeks ago, today’s win will be seen as a job well done by Peter Houston’s men.
If they didn’t know it already, today illustrated the steepness of the learning curve for Dundee this season. Manager Barry Smith will be hoping to strengthen a squad which had been assembled for first division football; however, his first task will be to revive his deflated players in time for welcoming Ross County to Dens Park next Saturday.
Dundee United: Radoslaw Cierzniak, Sean Dillon, Barry Douglas, Gavin Gunning (McLean 79’), Willo Flood, Johnny Russell, John Rankin, Jon Daly (C), Richie Ryan, Keith Watson, Michael Gardyne (Armstrong 67’).
Subs: Steve Banks, Brian McLean, Mark Millar, Stuart Armstrong, Ryan Dow, Dale Hilson, Willie Robertson
Dundee: Robert Douglas, Gary Irvine, Matt Lockwood, Stephen O’Donnell (C), Iain Davidson, Nicky Riley (Webster 80’), John Baird (Stewart 57’), Ryan Conroy, Kyle Benedictus, James McAlister (Boyle 65’), Davide Grassi.
Subs: Alex Baird, Neil McGregor, Steven Milne, Graham Webster, Declan Gallagher, Martin Boyle, Mark Stewart.