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St Johnstone 0-1 Dundee United: Peter Pawlett bags the winner then sees red in fiery Tayside showdown

Pawlett, later sent off, scored the winning goal
Pawlett, later sent off, scored the winning goal

As a former St Johnstone player who was reportedly coveted by the Perth club earlier this year, Peter Pawlett was always likely to be the focus of some attention at McDiarmid Park.

However, nobody realised the extent to which Dundee United’s diminutive midfielder would monopolise the drama.

The history books will show that Pawlett emerged as the match-winner, bagging the only goal of a thoroughly entertaining, fiery Tayside showdown early in the second half.

However, Pawlett’s afternoon in Tulloch was curtailed when he was sent off by referee Don Robertson, with the official deciding he had dived under limited pressure from Murray Davidson.

Crowd scene: United players and fans celebrate

Nevertheless, after the player reluctantly trudged from the turf — pleading his case with every step — United held firm for their first win at McDiarmid Park since April 2016.

Selection drama

There was ample intrigue surrounding Callum Davidson’s team selection, given St Johnstone play the most lucrative game in their history in four days’ time.

Should the Saintees overcome LASK on Thursday evening, they will embark upon a Europa Conference League group phase campaign thought to be worth around £3 million to the Perth club.

The Scottish Cup triumph in 2014 may have been bigger in terms of smashing through a glass ceiling.

Last season’s double may have been bigger when it comes to achieving the seemingly impossible.

But when it comes to monetary rewards and the opportunity to explore new horizons on the continent? Nothing comes close.

Two changes: Davidson

Nevertheless, Davidson resisted the temptation to make wholesale changes, with just two alterations to the side which claimed a gutsy, impressive 1-1 draw in Klagenfurt during the week.

Stevie May replaced the benched Michael O’Halloran, while Hayden Muller came in for Liam Gordon, who was absent altogether.

For United, Dylan Levitt made his maiden appearance after arriving from Manchester United, occupying a deep playmaking role in United’s 4-2-3-1.

Tannadice number one Benjamin Siegrist missed out through injury, meaning a debut for Northern Ireland internationalist Trevor Carson between the sticks.

Raucous atmosphere

Carson warmed his gloves fairly swiftly, comfortably fielding a Callum Booth drive following an inventive Ali McCann corner-kick to the edge of the box.

However, roared on by a boisterous band of Arabs in the sold-out away sections, the visitors enjoyed the early impetus.

Debut: Carson

Nicky Clark — drifting dangerously into the pockets of space behind Marc McNulty — tested Zander Clark with a ferocious drive from distance after linking up nicely with the on-loan Reading attacker.

McNulty, looking sharp, then directed a header into the arms of the Saints keeper from 12 yards.

As the game entered its 32nd minute — usually the signal for Shaun Rooney to do something special — who could blame the marauding wing-back for trying his luck?

His speculative shot from all of 35 yards flashed inches past the post, with Carson sufficiently concerned to produce a full-length, sprawling dive.

Rooney was in the mood.

A sensational dash down the right-flank — nutmegging Marc McNulty on his merry way — culminated in a super delivery across the face of goal but Stevie May was centimetres away from getting his head on it.

The Peter Pawlett Show

Much like the first period, United started the second period well and Charlie Mulgrew flashed a header narrowly off target after rising highest to meet a Pawlett corner.

McNulty almost took advantage of a rare moment of indecision from Jason Kerr as he sought to hare onto a lofted through-pass, but the Scotland striker’s fluffed connection saw the ball trickle into the arms of Clark.

A deserved opener came for United courtesy of Pawlett, with the diminutive midfielder latching on to a Nicky Clark knock-down to poke a close-range finish beyond the desperate dive of Zander Clark.

Disbelief: Pawlett sees red

A roller-coaster afternoon for Pawlett continued when he was dismissed for simulation by Mr Robertson, picking up a second yellow card after going down under pressure from Davidson.

He had previously been cautioned for celebrating among the United fans.

But United, down to 10 men, were stoic in their resolve and held onto their clean sheet.

The Saints’ best opportunity came in the form of a late Glenn Middleton free-kick which was blocked by McNulty while the front-man was lying in the ground behind the wall.