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Inverness CT 0 Dundee United 1: Tangerines give manager perfect birthday present

Paul McMullan is fouled for the penalty opener.
Paul McMullan is fouled for the penalty opener.

Dundee United gave manager Ray McKinnon the perfect birthday gift by opening their Championship campaign with a win over Inverness Caley Thistle.

McKinnon was able to celebrate his 47th birthday in some style up in the Highlands thanks to Paul McMullan’s penalty goal on 13 minutes, which was won by the stand-in striker himself.

The home team came back at them but United’s defence stood firm to secure three points and get their promotion challenge off and running.

There was no sign of new recruit Fraser Fyvie in the Tangerines’ squad, while defender Mark Durnan and strikers Scott McDonald and Matty Smith were suspended.

The good news was that James Keatings’ remarkable return from an ankle ligament injury saw him earn a place on the bench.

That left McMullan to lead the line as he had done so successfully in the Dundee derby last Sunday.

Durnan’s absence at the back meant skipper Tam Scobbie moved to central defence and Jamie Robson came in at left-back.

McMullan got the game under way for United, who were backed by a 1,200-strong travelling support.

It was a while before the game got going and the first chance fell to ICT on seven minutes, with George Oakley’s shot well saved by goalie Harry Lewis.

Just a minute later, United almost grabbed the lead after Billy King played in Scott Fraser and his well-struck shot produced a brilliant stop from home keeper Mark Ridgers.

The Tangerines were storming forward now and they grabbed the lead from the penalty spot on 13 minutes.

A wee bit of pinball inside the Inverness area finally saw McMullan chip the ball forward and he was tripped by Joe Chalmers as he tried to get to it.

Referee Craig Thomson wasted no time in making up his mind and up stepped McMullan to make it 1-0 to the visitors, sending Ridgers the wrong way.

Irate ICT boss John Robertson was sent to the stand by Thomson before play resumed.

On 18 minutes, it would have been 2-0 to the Tangerines had Iain Vigurs not made a last-gasp tackle on Sam Stanton as the United man prepared to shoot from just 10 yards.

ICT were getting forward, too, but the best efforts were coming from United and Scobbie sent a volley straight at Ridgers on 28 minutes.

Five minutes later, Ricky Calder, who was getting plenty of possession on the Inverness left, fired a strike over United’s bar.

With 40 minutes on the clock, the home team came even closer to a leveller when Brad McKay headed a Vigurs freekick just past the post.

There was controversy just two minutes before the break when Inverness captain Ross Draeper fell down inside the box and claimed for a penalty. The appeal was ignored by ref Thomson, who booked both Draper and Scobbie after the pair squared up.

Oakley then fired into the side-netting as the hosts finished the first half strongly.

Inverness were camped in United half early in the second period and Liam Polworth shot just wide on 51 minutes.

The visitors needed to break out and they did so just seconds later when good work by McMullan again created the opening for Stanton, who just couldn’t hit the target with his shot.

There was a real setback for ICT on 56 minutes when the dangerous Calder had to hobble off injured, to be replaced by Jake Mulraney.

King was rugby-tackle by David Raven with 63 minutes gone, earning the ICT man a booking and United a chance for some respite, but the visitors could do nothing with the freekick.

A Polworth rocket shot flew over the Tangerines’ bar before Keatings made his appearance as a sub for Scott Allardice.

United then squandered a golden chance to make it 2-0 on 71 minutes.

McMullan won possession and played the ball forward to Keatings, who was beaten in the race by keeper Ridgers. The goalie, though, only played it out to Stanton and, with the goal gaping, the midfielder fired the ball over.

The hope was that the Tannadice men wouldn’t be made to pay for that miss as the Highlanders kept hunting for an equaliser and bookings for first Stanton, McMullan and Jordie Briels didn’t help ease the nerves.

Inverness CT: Ridgers, Raven, Chalmers, Elsdon, Polworth, Draper, Baird (Bell 75), Vigurs, Oakley (Zschusschen 85), Calder (Mulraney 56), McKay. Subs not used: Esson, Cooper, Macdonald.

Dundee United: Lewis, Scobbie, Toshney, McMullan, Fraser (Flood 86), King, Stanton, Edjenguele, Robson, Allardice (Keatings 67), Briels. Subs not used: Deniz, Murdoch, Donaldson, Chalmers, Thomas.

Referee: Craig Thomson.