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ANALYSIS: Dundee United benefit from being busier in penalty box as they show character to beat Ross County

Nicky Clark's chest scores Dundee United's second goal.

Dundee United’s players all assured us they would have their minds on the match rather than the pay-cut talks.

They were true to their word as they secured an extremely valuable 2-1 win over Ross County at Tannadice on Saturday.

The victory moved them up into fifth spot in the Premiership table, not too shabby for a team undergoing a cost-cutting process as well as having their recent form criticised.

Securing 16 points after 13 matches means they are ahead of the survival curve and, you could argue, they have yet to really get into their stride in the top flight.

You sense there is more is to come from United on the pitch as the talking continues off it between the players and the board.

What the win over the Staggies did was shine a more flattering light on the previous two results.

Suddenly a point apiece in goalless draws away to St Johnstone and at home to Aberdeen don’t seem too bad. Unbeaten in four and only one defeat in six is pretty decent, you could argue if you are a glass half-full person.

The major test for the players on Saturday was showing that the wage-cut news didn’t impact their performance, both as individuals and collectively.

They managed that and then some, with a display that carried much more of a goal threat than the previous fixtures against the Dons and Saints.

Peter Pawlett (two shots) and Lawrence Shankland (three) both could easily have joined Clark on the scoresheet.

A dip into the stats tells us that, once again, the Tangerines didn’t enjoy as much possession as their opponents.

United’s and County’s stats compared (Source – Opta).

County had 64.9% while United only had the ball for 35.1%. It’s perhaps timely to remind everyone, though, that Micky Mellon’s team had 67.3% possession in a game they lost 4-0 to Kilmarnock at Rugby Park back in August.

Like so much in life, it’s not how much you have that counts but how you use it.

The good news is the Tangerines were much more of an attacking threat and – this is the big one – touched the ball 15 times in the County box.

That is a considerable improvement on the seven against Saints, seven against Aberdeen and three against Livingston.

It is evidence of a more attack-minded team, even if the Staggies held possession for longer than they did.

The two touches that really mattered belonged to Nicky Clark.

The Tangerines were literally handed the opener on 19 minutes by the visitors’ captain Iain Vigurs, who looked to be playing basketball rather than football when he tried to clear inside the penalty area, kicked only fresh air and then juggled the ball with his arm.

It was a moment of madness from an experienced player but Clark didn’t care about that as he calmly placed his spot-kick low to keeper Ross Doohan’s left in front of the empty Eddie Thompson Stand.

Shots produced by the United players on Saturday (Source – Opta).

Clark made it 2-0 on 52 minutes in unorthodox fashion, deflecting defender Mark Reynolds’ shot into the County net on 52 minutes.

It went in off his chest but United skipper Reynolds was initially given the goal, only for it to be corrected later.

The Staggies didn’t play badly and probably deserved the goal they got back on 81 minutes when their substitute Oli Shaw ran clear before clipping his strike past home goalie Benjamin Siegrist.

United then held on pretty comfortably to move up to fifth in the league table.

The final whistle came as a blessed relief after a torrid few days and manager Mellon was understandably pleased with the way his players conducted themselves while continuing to argue there is no big fuss to be made over the pay talks.

He said: “There are no big dramas. Trust me.

“There is a pandemic on and every industry in the world is dealing with a tough time. Football is one of those.

“We will sort it out and continue to play football and hopefully pick up results.

“We said right from the start we can’t allow it to become any bigger drama than what everybody might make it out to be.

“It’s no surprise to us. People have to cut their cloth accordingly.

The United touch map shows them to be much busier inside the opposition box than in previous weeks (Source – Opta).

“There are no fans coming through the door. The boys know that and know we have to keep grafting for the club to pick up results and keep moving towards the Dundee United we all want to see.

“They deserve a lot of credit but not just for today.

United's touch map in goalless draw with St Johnstone the previous weekend (Source - Opta).
United’s touch map in goalless draw with St Johnstone the previous weekend (Source – Opta).

“I keep saying they’ve only just come out the Championship and are being asked to adapt to the Premiership.

“They are fighting really hard to do that and this win moved us a bit closer to being that team.”

Mellon again praised his men for continuing to find their feet in the top flight.

The United boss said: “Even Lawrence Shankland hasn’t played in the Premiership before.

“People forget he has not played a lot of games at this level.

“Most of these guys were Championship players last year and the big ask was for them to come in as a group and become a force as quickly as possible at this level.

“A lot of times people forget where the majority of this group have come from.

“We try to keep encouraging them and asking them to try to keep improving.”