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4 Dundee United talking points: Charlie Mulgrew receives pundit red card support as Jim Goodwin faces conundrum

United will decide whether to submit an appeal against Mulgrew's red card to the Scottish FA on Monday

T. Image: SNS
T. Image: SNS

Just one point separates Dundee United, Kilmarnock and Ross County following the latest twist in the battle for Premiership survival.

United’s 1-0 defeat against St Johnstone, allied with the Highlanders’ 2-0 triumph over Livingston has concertinaed matters at the foot of the table.

Perth skipper Liam Gordon was the match-winner at McDiarmid Park, with United left to rue Charlie Mulgrew’s red card and a ferocious injury-time volley by Steven Fletcher that hit the stanchion.

Liam Gordon celebrates his winning goal.
Liam Gordon celebrates his winning goal. Image: SNS.

Courier Sport analyses the talking points.

Would “a yellow card have sufficed”?

United will decide whether or not to appeal the red card dished out to Mulgrew on Monday morning.

There are myriad considerations, none of which relate to the foul itself. That is inarguable. The former Scotland star hung his leg in the air to halt Melker Hallberg’s progress when it became apparent he would not win possession.

But would the Swede have been presented with a clear goalscoring opportunity, given he was in a relatively wide position? Would he have caught his own touch before Mark Birighitti — always quick off his line — hared out?

And, a big question after the controversies of last month; could Mulgrew receive an extended ban if a panel deems the appeal to have no reasonable prospect of success? The precedents of Graeme Shinnie and Ryan Porteous loom large.

Mulgrew found support from Michael Stewart on Sportscene.

Analysing the incident, the pundit stated: “As the ball is played down the line, Charlie gets a touch on the ball to begin with, but lifts his leg. He knows exactly what he is trying to do in impeding Hallberg from getting down the line.

I don’t think there is a great deal of contact and I think a yellow card would have sufficed.

“He’s not getting a shot on goal, for me. (Loick) Ayina is coming back and I don’t think it’s an obvious goal-scoring opportunity. I don’t think, personally, that should have been a red card.”

A defensive conundrum

IF Mulgrew is absent for next weekend’s visit of Ross County — the most consequential match of the season so far — then boss Jim Goodwin has a conundrum.

It was notable that following the dismissal, the United boss chose to switch Scott McMann to centre-back, bringing Aziz Behich to left-back.

Ryan Edwards, the natural choice to come on in the heart of the back-line, remained on the bench until being deployed as an auxiliary striker in the dying embers.

Loick Ayina, left, will certainly be part of United’s defence next week. Image: SNS

The vastly-experienced, proven defender would be a straight swap for Mulgrew against county but United would undoubtedly lose some balance, with both Edwards and Loick Ayina naturally right-footed.

The other option available to the Tannadice gaffer would be a back three — a shape the Tangerines are comfortable win; one they played when beating County 3-0 back in December — and fielding Ayina, Edwards and McMann.

Behich and Ilmari Niskanen/Kieran Freeman would then operate as wing-backs and allow United to retain their very effective midfield three of Ian Harkes, Craig Sibbald and Ian Harkes behind a front-two.

Much to ponder.

Burying Saints memories

While it will be scant solace following a defeat, Saturday was another heartening afternoon for Birighitti — and one worth mentioning, given the opponents.

His prior outing against the Saints was a nightmarish affair, with the Australian goalkeeper conceding one of the most bizarre goals imaginable; dallying on the ball on his own goal-line to allow Stevie May to slide-tackle home the winner.

Mark Birighitti pulls off a fine save. Image: SNS

But, in keeping with his personal progress of recent weeks, Birighitti was solid at McDiarmid Park. A first-half save from Graham Carey, in particular, was excellent and he had no chance with Gordon’s decisive strike.

Birighitti made six saves over the course of the contest, more than any other keeper in Premiership action on Saturday.

Kilmarnock’s Sam Walker and St Mirren stopper Trevor Carson were his closest challengers with four apiece.

Three-way dance

The burgeoning notion that St Johnstone could get sucked into the relegation battle can be buried. As can the fanciful idea that Motherwell might implode and get sucked into the melee.

United will seek to make amends for last Ross County outing – a 4-0 defeat that cost Liam Fox his job. Image: SNS

This is now a three-way fight for survival between the Terrors, Kilmarnock and Ross County.

And, despite Saturday’s set-back, United’s position is the most enviable of the trio.

Goodwin’s men occupy the safety of 10th spot — albeit solely by virtue of a better goal difference than Killie — and host BOTH of their relegation rivals at Tannadice during the run in.

Their destiny remains in their own hands.