JACK ROSS was relived to see his side return to winning ways, after Hibs earned a rather routine three points at Tannadice.
The match was won by a goal in either half, and showed the quality of the visitors while simultaneously exposing the shortcomings that continue to hamper United.
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“I think we have had a sticky period since boxing day so I think to get back to winning games was important for us,” Ross said at full time, reflecting on his side’s run of of win in six games.
“Today and the way the pitches are at the moment at all the grounds you have to do the ugly side of the game really well and hope that you have those moments of quality.”
Dundee United began the day the division’s lowest scorers despite their comfortable league position in their first season back in the top-flight. They can boast two Scotland capped forwards in Lawrence Shankland and Marc McNulty in their side, but too often this season the issue has been providing them with chances to take rather than squandered opportunities. A 5-1 home defeat to St Mirren on Wednesday had perhaps been a result in the waiting, especially with Benjamin Siegrist missing in goals.
Ross omitted both Kevin Nisbet and Ryan Porteous to the bench after they were both subject to offers from England in midweek.
“If I’m honest, I would expect them to be with me on Monday,” he explained after the match. “They’re both not just young footballers but young men and it’s been a kind of unusual couple of days for them to be the subject of concrete interest and the amount of attention that comes with that, I just felt as if it were a judgement call in terms of taking them out.”
Calum Butcher went close to making an immediate impact after four minutes. An ambitious drive clipped off Hanlon and would have nestled in the net if not for a well-versed stop from Ofir Marciano.
Hibs were slow out of the blocks but almost led from a corner when Darren McGregor was gifted space to meet the ball inside the area form a corner, Jamie Murphy did his best to scramble home the effort after it was blocked but the hosts had enough bodies to survive.
When the next set piece arrived however, United did not heed to that earlier warning. Paul McGinn connected well with a Boyle corner and after Hibs were first to the second ball, Jackson Irvine squared to McGregor who finished powerfully and clinically into the roof of the net from 12 yards on 21 minutes.
That goal encouraged Ross’ side who began to get real joy down their right flank, with the newly arrived Chris Cadden looking up to speed and getting the better of Jamie Robson on more than one occasion.
While United showed more promise offensively than has been the case in recent weeks, familiar problems of an isolated Shankland and out of position McNulty began to arise. Pinned back by Hibs’ pressure, balls to the final third were far more often clearances hit with hope than purpose. Micky Mellon continued to ask his side to show more intensity, but Hibs with their tail up were beginning to control more of the game that task appeared increasingly arduous.
It was the visitors who would get the all important second goal midway through the second period. Irvine showed why there was such excitement about his arrival in Leith, riding a challenge from Butcher to pick out the marauding Boyle. The forward’s run in behind the United defence was timed to perfection and his finish over Marciano equally efficient.
United huffed and puffed but aside from a Shankland effort, saved by an outstretched leg of Marciano, they caused few inroads upon the Hibs goal. They should’ve had a penalty when Josh Doig handled clearly in the box, but quite unbelievably the officials waved protests away.
Micky Mellon was bereft his side were not given a penalty after the incident, particularly after conceding a far softer looking penalty in midweek. “In tight games, which a lot of of them are in the Scottish Premiership, there has to be consistently and they’ve got to go your way in order to give yourself a chance of getting results,” he said.
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“You never do [get an explanation from the officials], they will referee another game on Wednesday and carry on and we will have to deal with the confusion of what is a penalty.
“After Wednesday night I presumed if it hits your hand, it doesn’t matter what speed it hits it, if it hits your hand it’s a penalty.” Mellon does see cause for optimism despite his side’s wretched run of form.
“We certainly have the players and we absolutely know at some stage it will all click and we will be fine.”