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4 Dundee United talking points: The blunt ‘relegation or redemption’ permutations ahead of nerve-shredding Kilmarnock showdown

A fraught, nervous night at Tannadice awaits on Wednesday, with United's top-flight status potentially on the line

A gutted Scott McMann at full-time following Saturday's 2-1 defeat at Livingston. Image: SNS
A gutted Scott McMann at full-time following Saturday's 2-1 defeat at Livingston. Image: SNS

Dundee United have two games to save their Premiership skins following a 2-1 defeat against Livingston.

Familiar defensive failings were apparent as goals from Bruce Anderson and James Penrice secured victory for the hosts.

Ian Harkes’ sumptuous volley was rendered futile as United remain rock-bottom of the league, two points behind Ross County and three adrift of Kilmarnock.

Matters were made even worse when Aziz Behich was dismissed in the dying embers of the contest, ruling him out of Wednesday’s do-or-die showdown with Kilmarnock.

Livi celebrate Penrice’s match-winning strike. Image: SNS

Courier Sport was in West Lothian to analyse the action.

Birighitti blunder

Boss Jim Goodwin cited both Loick Ayina and goalkeeper Mark Birighitti during the grim post-mortem of Livingston’s opening goal.

In hindsight, Ayina, 19, should have taken control of the situation and dealt with Cristian Montano’s long punt.

However, another diabolical defensive scene owes far more to Birighitti’s errant decision-making.

Birighitti is beaten by Bruce Anderson. Image: SNS

It was the Australian’s inexplicable dash to the edge of his box that caused the confusion. It was his hesitation that presented Anderson with an open goal to shoot into.

Birighitti has played well during Goodwin’s reign. He was good against Motherwell, made a couple of cracking stops against St Johnstone and ended a lengthy clean-sheet drought in a 2-0 win over Livi last month.

Yet, it is impossible to shake the feeling that the two-time A-League goalkeeper of the season has a mistake in his locker. Whether through poor judgement or a lack of physicality in the penalty box, nervousness abounds.

Birighitti has bounced back from errors before this season.

He must do so again because United simply cannot afford to be given another mountain to climb due to shipping sloppy goals.

Fletcher luck was always going to run out

The 36th game of the season. Bottom of the league. A victory paramount.

And manager Jim Goodwin was forced to turn to 17-year-old Rory MacLeod to lead the line following a groin injury to Steven Fletcher.

MacLeod played well on on his second league start of the season. Image: SNS

MacLeod, it must be said, played very well. He is evidently a talent. But against the physicality of Morgan Boyes and Luiyi de Lucas, it was an onerous challenge for the Scotland U17 starlet.

When he naturally faded and had to be replaced, Miller Thomson, 18, was deployed in attack for the remainder of the encounter. Kai Fotheringham, 20, and Mathew Cudjoe, 19, were also called upon.

United started this campaign with an attacking pool that included Nicky Clark and Tony Watt. Those two players boast a combined 235 senior career goals.

Combined, MacLeod, Fotheringham, Cudjoe, Thomson and Glenn Middleton have 28.

United rolled the dice when they allowed Clark and Watt to depart over the course of the campaign without bringing in experienced replacements.

And the house always wins.

Fletcher, although in fantastic shape, was bound to pick up a knock or a niggle at some point.

Fletcher is in a race against time to be fit to face Kilmarnock. Image: SNS

There was clearly a limited budget in January but, weighed against the possibility of relegation — an even more costly proposition — the failure to bring in another recognised striker continues to look like an oversight.

Goodwin is attempting to extinguish fires for which he is not responsible and, should the worst happen, the man in the dugout will be far from the most culpable.

Inexplicable Aziz

Aziz Behich is a fiery, combative and often irascible presence on the football pitch.

And it largely stands him in good stead.

That drive, aggression and will-to-win has afforded him a fine career for club and country. In a struggling United side, he has scored four goals, claimed four assists and been a stand-out performer on the left.

Behich is dismissed. Image: SNS

However, on Saturday that passion spilled over into petulance.

Behich received two yellow cards in short order, both for dissent — ruling him out of one of United’s biggest matches in years.

The Tangerines could be mathematically relegated on Wednesday and will not have one of their most experienced, talented players to call upon.

Referee Don Robertson dished out the second booking for blink-and-you’d-miss-it sarcastic applause after a 50-50 challenge went against the Aussie.

Given the emotions of the game and context of the situation, was it a tad officious by Robertson? Perhaps. But Behich — 32 years of age and a consummate professional — should have known SO much better.

Relegation or redemption?

Dundee United could be a Championship club by 9.45pm on Wednesday evening.

Those are the stakes.

If the Tangerines lose to Killie and Ross County beat St Johnstone in Dingwall, then United will be mathematically relegated.

In the event of defeat at Tannadice, even a draw in the Highlands would likely see Goodwin’s men left with a mountain to climb.

Goodwin’s United could be officially relegated on Wednesday. Image: SNS

Those results would see County extend their lead over United to three points, while they have a superior goal difference of five (that would be increased if County draw and United lose on Wednesday).

If United beat Killie then they are guaranteed to leapfrog the Ayrshire outfit. They would go into the final day knowing that avoiding automatic relegation was in their own hands.

A draw will keep United’s hopes alive but do little to ignite any belief that redemption is likely.

A truly fraught, nervous night in Tayside awaits.