Dundee United 4 Brechin City 1: Tangerines close gap at top with comfortable win over Brechin

Scott McDonald makes it 3-0 to United.

Dundee United closed the gap on Championship leaders St Mirren to three points with a comfortable win over Brechin City at Tannadice.

United wasted little time – 43 seconds to be exact – before taking the lead through Scott McDonald. They then went 2-0 up on just seven minutes, this time Sam Stanton firing home.

In the second half,  McDonald grabbed his second and his team’s third before James Keatings netted with a spotkick that was won by the wee Australian.

Brechin grabbed a goal back on 64 minutes through Jordan Sinclair’s well-taken penalty before Paul McMullan’s red card left the hosts to see the match out with just 10 men.

They managed to do just that and, with the Buddies only drawing 1-1 away to Morton, that means some of the damage done by Friday’s defeat in Paisley was repaired, with the Tangerines also having a game in hand over Saints.

Of course, the bad news pre-match for the Tangerines was that there was no Scott Fraser in their side, with the playmaker now feared to be out for the season because of his foot injury.

With fellow midfielder Fraser Fyvie sidelined for the rest of the campaign because of cruciate ligament damage, it was somewhat surprising that there was only one change to the starting line-up from the St Mirren game.

Into the side came Keatings, while Cammy Ballantyne – just recalled from his loan spell at Montrose – was on the bench.

As expected, Brechin boss Darren Dods, chasing a first league win of the season, named an unchanged side.

With the New Year handshakes completed by players and fans alike, Keatings got the action under way.

Just 43 seconds later, the Tangerines were a goal up.

It was a sweeping move up the left that saw Billy King play the ball to Jamie Robson.

Instead of the expected cross into the middle, Robson cut back to McDonald, who fired a low shot through City goalie Graeme Smith from just inside the box to make it 1-0.

Just three minutes later, Smith was the Brechin hero as he saved a McDonald header at point-blank range.

United were clearly in the mood and they were two up with just seven minutes on the clock.

A corner was taken from the left by Keatings and delivered to an unmarked Stanton at the corner of the penalty area.

The midfielder hit it first time and, while it wasn’t the best connection, his shot beat Smith just inside his right-hand post.

City tried to hit back and Euan Spark went on a surging run on 11 minutes, only to be stopped by a challenge that earned United’s McMullan a booking.

Stanton fired a low 25-yard strike wide on 17 minutes then central defender Mark Durnan went for a stroll upfield and played in McMullan but the chance came to nothing.

Connor McLennan came to City’s rescue on 25 minutes when he stopped a header from Durnan on the goalline before booting clear.

With the half-hour mark approaching, Brechin were still on the back foot and Sean Crighton did well to get in the way of a netbound Stanton shot.

Flood became the second United player to be booked on 34 minutes when he tripped Graham as the City player ghosted past him.

The Angus men left their best effort of the first half until the last minute, with McLennan’s shot from the edge of the box not missing by much.

There was yet another injury scare for United right on the half-time whistle when Durnan sat down on the turf and then limped up the tunnel.

With Durnan failing to reappear for the second period, United had to rejig things at the back. Ballantyne slotted in at right-back, while Scobbie played in the middle alongside Paul Quinn.

Two minutes after the restart, it looked like 3-0 as Keatings was played in by McDonald but keeper Smith did enough to thwart the Tannadice frontman.

The third wasn’t delayed long, though, with United stretching their lead on 49 minutes.

McDonald was the scorer, smashing the ball into the net after a fine cross from the right by sub Ballantyne after good work by Keatings.

It was all United now and it wasn’t a shock when they quickly made it four from the penalty spot.

McDonald was brought down by keeper Smith and it was expected that the former Celtic and Motherwell man would get up and take it himself.

However, he had taken a knock and left the job to Keatings, who pulled a left-foot shot into the corner to pile on the misery for the visitors.

King’s shot almost added to the lead on 56 minutes before Brechin replaced Isaac Layne with Andy Jackson.

United were reduced to 10 men two minutes later when McMullan received his second booking of the game, this time for an alleged dive as he went up against Gary Fusco.

City, who had brought on Liam Watt for Graham just after the hour, came within a whisker of a goal on 64 minutes when United goalie Harry Lewis tipped a Spark header over the bar.

Then, with 65 minutes gone, the Glebe Park side did get one back from the spot.

United’s Scobbie was judged to have fouled Sinclair inside the area and the City player took the kick himself, giving Lewis no chance.

Brechin seemed rejuvenated by that goal and Sinclair came close with a great 25-yard strike on 70 minutes.

King, though, missed a golden chance at the back post for the Tangerines three minutes later, striking the woodwork when he should have found the back of the net.

City sub Jackson floated the ball over the United bar then King should have scored in stoppage-time when he was clean through but couldn’t beat Smith.

Attendance: 5,532.

Dundee United: Lewis, Scobbie, Durnan (Ballantyne 46), Quinn, McMullan, McDonald, King, Stanton, Flood (Allardice 55), Robson, Keatings (M. Smith 71). Subs not used: Deniz, Appere, Chalmers, Inglis.

Brechin City: G. Smith, Fusco, Dale, Graham (Watt 61), Layne (Jackson 56), Lynas, Spark, McLennan, Crighton, Sinclair (Orsi 78), E. Smith. Subs not used: P. O’Neil, McLean, Dyer, C. O’Neil.

Referee: Alan Newlands.