It was the Cammy Bell show at East End Park as Dundee United secured a “pivotal” victory over Dunfermline.
Bell’s brilliance in saving three penalties in the first half from Gavin Reilly, Nicky Clark and Paul McMullan inspired the 10-man Tangerines on to a 3-1 win that manager Ray McKinnon hopes will be hugely significant.
After the first kick was saved, United took the lead through a Simon Murray strike from close range.
After referee John Beaton pointed to the spot another couple of times, the Tangerines made it 2-0 two minutes into the second half thanks to a Tony Andreu shot.
The Pars fought back to score themselves just three minutes later through Michael Paton.
The visitors were then reduced to 10 men on with over half-an-hour remaining as Paul Dixon was sent off for two bookings.
To their credit, though, McKinnon’s men made it 3-1 when Andreu fired home two minutes into stoppage time.
— Gameday Live (@Gameday_Live_) September 11, 2016
Usually, a goal that late from a player would book him the headlines but this occasion was all about Bell.
Asked about the goalie’s treble, McKinnon said: “It was absolutely magnificent, wasn’t it?
“To save three penalties like that, I have never seen that before in my life.
“That’s why we got him in because he is a top, top goalkeeper.
“It was pretty special for him.
“You know what, though, after he saved the second penalty I knew he would save the third.
“He is different class.
“It is a pivotal game for us because it showed our character and determination not to get beaten.
“It is a real character-building performance as well.
“We had to dig it out, especially as, in my opinion, every single decision went against us.
“I am absolutely proud of my players.
“This is a new team but that result is going to stand them in good stead for the rest of the season.”
The Tannadice gaffer chose – apart from a wee mention of an “embarrassment” – to hold fire when asked about the display of referee Beaton.
McKinnon said: “I am not saying anything about the referee because if I do say something then I am liable to be at Hampden.”
“You know what I am feeling though.”
Pars boss Allan Johnston was also unhappy with Beaton but for different reasons.
He felt that United defender William Edjenguele should have been ordered off at the first penalty for pushing Lee Ashcroft and also that Dixon should have been sent packing after the third penalty for handball.
Johnston said: “As for the first penalty we got, I was at the SFA meeting a couple of weeks ago and it was said that pushing, pulling and holding will result in a sending-off.
“He has pushed him and the ref has booked him so what is the rule?
“The second penalty he has brought him down and I don’t think that was a sending off, to be fair.
“At the third one, the boy has actually caught it with his two hands when it’s going in the net. Surely that was a sending-off as well?
“So I don’t know.
“Maybe the referee deemed that they weren’t goalscoring opportunities.”
Despite that frustration, Johnston wasn’t too hard on his players despite that now being six missed spotkicks in a row.
He added: “There were three missed penalties but I thought the boys were different class.
“We were on the front foot for the whole game.
“Their first goal came from our mistake. Sometimes that happens but I felt the boys responded really well.
“The main thing to take out of the game is how much we were on top.
“The concession of the second goal was poor but other than that I can’t complain because I thought the boys gave everything and it was a really good performance.
“Our striker ran them ragged so there are a lot of positives there but we need to start getting results.”
There first drama came on nine minutes, when Edjenguele was penalised for a push on Ashcroft and referee Beaton pointed to the spot and booked the big Frenchman.
It was a golden chance for the Fifers but Reilly’s kick was superbly saved – one-handed – by Bell to keep the game goalless.
Having survived that scare, United took the lead on 21 minutes with a well-worked goal.
Andreu collected a pass from Charlie Telfer in midfield before the on-loan Norwich player fed the ball on to Tope Obadeyi.
He ran forward and then squared to Murray, who had time to turn before firing low into the net from inside the six-yard box.
The Pars were then awarded another penalty on 28 minutes.
Bell had to come out after McMullan sent Reilly through on goal. The keeper was brave and seemed to have saved his side again but as the ball bounced towards goal, Frank van der Struijk struggled to boot the ball clear.
After a stumble the Dutchman was forced to challenge Clark, who had raced to the ball. As Clark fell to the ground, Beaton pointed to the spot for a second time.
Remarkably, Bell, who had been receiving treatment on the ground, picked himself up to make penalty save number two from Clark this time– much to the delight of the large travelling support behind his goal.
An already amazing match got even more incredible on 33 minutes when Beaton gave Dunfermline a third spotkick. Yes, you read that right, a third spotkick!
Clark’s shot hit Dixon inside the box and the referee ruled it was a handball. Surely Bell couldn’t do it again, could he?
The answer was a resounding yes as he dived once again to save from McMullan this time. It was stunning stuff from Bell and his teammates queued up to embrace him.
The Tangerines wasted little time – under two minutes to be precise – in making it 2-0 after the break.
Andreu was the scorer, with Pars goalie David Hutton not doing quite enough to stop his shot trundling over the line after the Frenchman was set up by Nick van der Velden.
On 50 minutes, though, Bell was finally beaten.
Paton smashed a shot past him from eight yards after a Clark shot was blocked and fell at his feet to bring the home team back into it.
On 58 minutes, Dixon was sent off for a second yellow – he had also been booked for the third penalty – for a challenge on Paton.
United had to hang on now as Dunfermline piled forward.
It was the visitors who had the final say, though, when a pass from Willo Flood sent Andreu in on goal and he slipped his shot past Hutton in off the post to secure the club’s best result of the season so far.