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ANALYSIS: Play-off final flashback was reminder of how Dundee United should cherish being top-flight team

Lawrence Shankland battles with Hamilton player Scott McMann.
Lawrence Shankland battles with Hamilton player Scott McMann.

As Dundee United’s players took to the field at Hamilton, your mind drifted back to the last time they visited Accies.

It was the day we all realised their relegation would not be as short-lived as many had expected and predicted.

It was not to be a one-season jolly after all but rather it would take the Tangerines a further three arduous attempts to get back up.

It was a sunny Sunday afternoon back on May 28, 2017 when Greg Docherty’s strike gave the home side a single-goal aggregate play-off final victory over Ray McKinnon’s tired United team.

The flashback was perhaps a timely reminder to cherish every single match in the top flight.

No player who started that game made it to Micky Mellon’s line-up. The closest was left-back Jamie Robson, who was an unused sub in the promotion decider.

Forty months later, United were back in Lanarkshire as a Premiership side on Saturday and they looked right at home.

That is the most encouraging thing from the 1-1 draw, that they were the better team overall against a side with a well-deserved reputation for avoiding relegation.

Indeed, someone once joked, albeit rather darkly, that there would be three things guaranteed survive a nuclear war:  scorpions, cockroaches and Hamilton Accies.

It was meant as a compliment and United shouldn’t be too harsh on themselves for this result.

They will play worse and win, that’s for sure, and this point could turn out to be very precious indeed.

The visitors made a flying start with a superbly-crafted goal.

Showing some serious speed, Logan Chalmers raced up the right wing before picking out Adrian Sporle. The Argentinian then did well to bustle his way through before cutting back for Lawrence Shankland, who shot home from close range.

It wasn’t quite the worldie from the previous weekend against St Mirren but, heck, it was just as important.

United manager Micky Mellon (left) walks past Hamilton manager Brian Rice at full-time. SNS.

Chalmers’ part in it didn’t go unnoticed, with his colleague Nicky Clark observing: “He is brilliant and has loads of ability, which he has shown over the last few weeks.

“He is right foot, left foot, tricky, quick and all with great enthusiasm.

“It is great to see him doing so well.

“There are a lot of young boys like him in or around the first team and I’m sure they will get their chances over the next few weeks but Chalmers has been great and long may that continue for him and us.

“He doesn’t look that quick but when you see him in training, he can run.

“Hopefully, he keeps doing what he’s doing, and putting it on a plate for me and Shanks.”

The Tangerines, wearing their purple strip, looked pretty comfortable for the remainder of the first half and a fair chunk of the second as well.

They lost their lead on 75 minutes to a goal from a setpiece, scored by Hakeem Odoffin with a diving header at the back post after he got on the end of a David Templeton freekick.

The number of times the whistle went on Saturday seemed to annoy United boss Micky Mellon.

With just a slight hint of sarcasm in his voice, Mellon said: “There are a lot of freekicks, aren’t there?

“Obviously, I’m Scottish but I’ve come up from England and there are a lot of freekicks up here.

“There are a lot of them and that’s something you have to be good at – taking freekicks.

“So we will go and get good at freekicks because there are an awful lot of them.

“If you are a good freekick taker up here then you have a chance.”

Hamilton’s Hakeem Odoffin (centre) scores to make it 1-1. SNS.

You would have expected a United boot on the ball before Odoffin’s head connected and you got the feeling even the Hamilton player was surprised the cross reached him.

Odoffin said: “Even though it was close to the ground I wasn’t tempted to go with my boot.

“I made a decision to head it and just went for it even though it was a bit low.

“If the ball is there to be won, I will go for it.”

The equaliser definitely goes into the “poor one to lose from our point of view” category that managers bring up every now and again.

With Sporle going off to be replaced by comeback central defender Mark Connolly, United went to a back three with the Irishman joining captain Mark Reynolds and Ryan Edwards.

The rejigging maybe didn’t help the defence but the main reason the three points didn’t head back to Tannadice was the finishing, or rather lack of it.

They cut open Accies more often than you are used to seeing and Clark, in particular, should have scored twice.

He wasn’t the only guilty party but you did expect someone of his experience and ability to make at least one of his golden opportunities count.

It left United with 11 points after nine games and the obvious aim is to take their tally to 14 by beating Livingston at Tannadice on Friday night.

That is a considerable challenge, of course, and Livi’s seemingly comfortable 2-0 home success over St Johnstone on Saturday will have been noted by Mellon and his players.

If the Tangerines can get a victory then it will set them up nicely for the international break before the first round of Premiership fixtures is completed with a home clash against Aberdeen on October 17.

In between the Livi and Dons matches there are Betfred Cup group fixtures against Brechin (a), Peterhead (h) and Kelty Hearts (h) but all those years of hurt in the Championship – including that 2017 trip to Hamilton – have ensured they know what to prioritise and it isn’t the cup.