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4 Dundee United talking points from Fleetwood defeat as Mark Birighitti shines and wing wildcard emerges

Mulgrew's struck was ultimately futile
Mulgrew's struck was ultimately futile

Former Hibernian midfielder Josh Vela struck in the dying embers to secure a 2-1 victory for Scott Brown’s Fleetwood Town over Dundee United.

More than 1,200 United supporters made the trip to the English seaside as the Tangerines concluded their pre-season schedule.

And they saw the Cod Army break the deadlock through a fortuitous Dan Batty drive on the cusp of half-time.

Ex-Fleetwood defender Mulgrew deservedly restored parity with a sweet right-footed finish after the break.

But there was a late sting in the tail for the Terrors when Vela lashed home a super near-post finish with 89 minutes on the clock following a swift counter-attack.

Scott Brown, right, and assistant Steven Whittaker

Courier Sport was in Lancashire to analyse the action.

Key Fletcher and Levitt boost

The arrival of the team-sheets brought glad tidings for all United fans.

Dylan Levitt and Steven Fletcher, injury doubts due to ankle and thigh issues respectively, both started at Highbury Stadium.

Given this was United’s final friendly fixture prior to their Premiership opener against Kilmarnock, it was pivotal that the duo were afforded precious minutes — especially after missing out against Sunderland.

And Fletcher, in particular, was superb.

Welcome sight: Levitt in action

He displayed physicality, hold-up play and an ability to bring others into the game that the Tangerines have been lacking in attack for too long.

The only thing missing from Fletcher’s outing was a goal, skewing a couple of early chances wide.

However, his interplay with Tony Watt, Ian Harkes and the lively Matthew Cudjoe was excellent.

Mark Birighitti set for Kilmarnock bow after Fleetwood outing

Amid a summer of visa delays and red-tape wrangles in Scottish football, United must be credited for the speed with which they have secured a work permit for Mark Birighitti.

First outing: Birighitti

The Australia international, who arrived from Central Coast Mariners on a two-year deal on Thursday, was immediately pitched into action in Lancashire and will be eligible to face Kilmarnock next Saturday.

He looked solid and assured. A sharp low save denied Batty in the first period, while he thwarted a low Hayden Morris drive.

Birighitti had no chance with Batty’s opener, with the midfielder’s shot from 20 yards squirming through a forest of legs and ricocheting into the corner of the net.

Batty’s drive finds the net

A double-save from point-blank range to deny Ellis Harrison in the second half was sensational.

There was late disappointment when Vela smashed home the winner — but you can count on the big Aussie being between the sticks in Ayrshire next week.

The Ross Graham conundrum

United do not have many selection conundrums.

With the club still in the market for reinforcements, the majority of the side picks itself.

However, there is a fascinating fight for places at the heart of defence and, for the moment, Ross Graham appears to be the odd one out in the battle for a starting berth.

Boss Jack Ross has so far preferred a 4-2-3-1 formation and, within the back-four, Charlie Mulgrew has been the left-sided centre-back.

It is easy to see why.

Mulgrew boasts quality, experience and, as we saw against Fleetwood, an eye for goal. His instinctive finish from 12 yards levelled proceedings and was richly-deserved for the visitors.

Nevertheless, it is impossible not to feel a touch of sympathy for Graham — sensational in the second half of last season.

Not that he will allow it to effect him. The way the Scotland under-21 international bounced back from a miserable loan stint with Dunfermline last term proved his resilience and determination.

And, given he is able to deputise for a 36-year-old Mulgrew and at left-back — as well as coming in to a 3-5-2 when Ross alters shape — one suspects Graham will still get plenty of game-time.

Magic Mathew Cudjoe will be a Tangerine wildcard

Mathew Cudjoe is already a United fans’ favourite. Confident, mercurial and boisterous on social media, Arabs are desperate for the wee Ghanaian to enjoy a breakthrough season.

The waspish winger did his chances no harm against Fleetwood.

Dangerman: Cudjoe in full flight

He remains raw. There were moments Liam Smith and Ryan Edwards had to coach his positioning or serve a reminder of defensive duties.

But with the ball at the feet, Cudjoe has one thought; drive forward. He commits defenders, attempts killer passes and possesses a certain chaos factor.

While it would be a huge leap to suggest he will be a regular in Ross’ starting XI when the competitive action begins, Cudjoe could be an interesting option in the coming campaign.