Raith Rovers’ time atop the Championship amounted to just 19 hours after Dundee United claimed a hard-fought 1-0 victory over Ayr United to return to the summit.
Kai Fotheringham scored the only goal of the game, continuing his sensational season and finally breaching a stubborn Honest Men rearguard.
Courier Sport was at Tannadice to analyse the action.
Answering a different challenge
For several months, United have been the Championship front-runners; every fixture was about maintaining or extending their advantage. As evidenced by their unbeaten league record, they have met that challenge.
However, the postponement of their league game at Morton allowed Raith Rovers to play two games before the Tangerines were next in action – and successive victories saw Ian Murray’s men grab top spot.
A different pressure was on Jim Goodwin’s title favourites, particularly given the weight of expectation on home soil against Ayr United.
And, while it was not the Terrors’ finest showing, they illustrated perseverance and character to grind down their visitors – particularly given the murmurs of discontent that had started to become audible.
Lesser United teams may have panicked, started to force matters and conceded a daft goal on the break. That is a tale as old as time. But Goodwin’s side kept their collective heads and got the job done, however narrowly.
The Terrors will, however, need to be much better against Rovers next weekend.
A Perfect 10 for Kai Fotheringham
Prior to Dundee United’s 1-0 Viaplay Cup victory over Falkirk on July 25, Kai Fotheringham had NEVER scored a senior goal for the Tangerines.
On Saturday afternoon, the promising winger scrambled home his 10th strike of the campaign; a fantastic tally by the second week of December. He has rippled the net seven times in his last six games.
Allied with his recent Scotland U21 debut, this is the definition of a breakthrough season for Fotheringham.
— Dundee United FC (@dundeeunitedfc) December 10, 2023
And he once again showed an uncanny knack for being in the right place at the right time to prod the ball over the line.
Complimenting his pace, direct running and ever-improving decision-making, Fotheringham has also snaffled his share of rebounds, tap-ins and moments of fortuitousness.
Those are rich reward for a player always willing to chase a lost cause, ceaselessly press opponents and follow up shots when defenders may be caught napping.
Persistence paid off for Glenn Middleton
Middleton could have been forgiven for allowing his head to drop.
The United winger whipped in a host of dangerous deliveries during a bright first period. Louis Moult, Chris Mochrie and Fotheringham were teed up. All to no avail.
By the time Middleton saw his goal-bound volley blocked by his own teammate, Mochrie, at the start of the second half, it was beginning to look like one of those days.
However, persistence paid off for Middleton when he fizzed in the corner kick which led to Fotheringham’s decisive strike.
It was merited for the best player on the pitch, albeit Craig Sibbald ran him close in that regard.
A show of faith in Chris Mochrie – but was it Tony Watt who secured starting berth?
Goodwin showed faith in Mochrie, handing the Tannadice youngster his first Championship start of the season in place of Declan Glass.
Once the club’s youngest ever player, his talent has never been in question.
Tall, technically gifted and with an elegance to his movement, Mochrie has loads of promise – but, now 20 years of age, is being challenged to realise that potential; to grab the impetus in games.
And he was impactful in the first half against Ayr.
The former Dunfermline loan star was unlucky not to find the net in the opening five minutes, forcing a super save from Charlie Albinson following an industrious burst forward.
Mochrie faded after the break and Tony Watt impressed after entering the fray as his replacement, affording Goodwin real food for thought ahead of the biggest game of the campaign next Saturday.
With Watt, Mochrie and Glass all effectively competing for one position – and the rest of the side picking itself – that is the biggest selection dilemma on the United boss’ plate.
Raith Rovers test could suit Dundee United to a tee – a cracker is on the cards
There was a sense of déjà vu at Tannadice on Saturday.
Such is the target on United’s back, sides arrive in Tayside seeking to be stoic, organised and hit on the break. Home games against Morton, Dunfermline, Inverness and Airdrie have all been frustrating spectacles.
Attacking, resilient, manic and occasionally porous – the Fifers seem unlikely to abandon their free-flowing style and park the bus.
That will undoubtedly pose a test to United.
But it will also create spaces that the Tangerines could exploit – something rarely seen when compact Championship outfits are in town.
United have now scored in 2️⃣1️⃣ consecutive competitive games – the longest run since 1968/69.
The club record is scoring in 2️⃣9️⃣ competitive games in a row, set between 2 November 1935 – 15 August 1936.
— DUFC Stats (@DufcStats) December 10, 2023
That may suit the hosts down to a tee.
Having scored in 21 consecutive matches, United’s own attacking abilities are not to be underestimated.
All signs point to a cracker next weekend.