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Dundee United 2 Dunfermline 1 (agg 2-1): Sam Stanton’s superb solo goal seals it for Tangerines

Sam Stanton celebrates scoring the winner for United.
Sam Stanton celebrates scoring the winner for United.

A superb solo goal from midfielder Sam Stanton sent Dundee United into the Premiership play-off semi-final and ended Dunfermline’s season.

The Tangerines staged a thrilling second-half comeback at Tannadice to keep the promotion pot boiling and they now play Livingston, with home leg at home on Monday night before a Friday trip to the Tony Macaroni Arena.

Dangerman Declan McManus gave the Pars the lead on 14 minutes and they went on to dominate the first half.

United dragged themselves level on 57 minutes, though, thanks to Scott McDonald’s close-range strike then Stanton made it 2-1 with his brilliant effort on 70 minutes.

It extended the Tangerines’ unbeaten run against the Fifers to an incredible 15 matches – a hoodoo indeed.

As expected, United boss Csaba Laszlo freshened up his team with a couple of changes.

Down to the bench went frontman Thomas Mikkelsen and midfielder Grant Gillespie, with Paul McMullan and matchwinner Stanton taking their places. That added up to a tactical switch of Scott Fraser from wide right to centre.

McManus, the Pars’ star turn on Tuesday, started in place of the injured Andy Ryan, the man he replaced in the first leg.

The atmosphere was electric by kick-off time, with the away fans, in particular, making plenty of noise.

United’s Fraser got the match under way and the hosts had a half-chance almost immediately, with McMullan flicking on goalkeeper Deniz’s kick-out but just running out of turf.

The home team looked to be in the mood and Fraser’s cross from the left on six minutes was met by the boot of McDonald but blocked by Dunfermline captain Callum Morris.

Tangerines’ defender Bilel Mohsni fired a corner high and wide before, with 13 minutes on the clock, up at the other end Fraser Aird sent a low ball right across the face of the home goal.

Just a minute later, though, another delivery from the left from Aird gave the Pars the opener. He pushed the ball up the wind then fired a cross to the near post, which was clipped in by McManus from a couple of yards out.

United tried to hit back quickly and McDonald fired a shot into the side-netting after a fine run up the right and cross from Anthony Ralston.

Mohsni then came to the hosts’ rescue when he booted clear following a great ball into the box from Kallum Higginbotham.

Nicky Clark had a decent chance to add to Dunfermline’s lead on 24 minutes following a neat move but scooped the ball over the bar from the edge of the six-yard box. A McManus header then flew over as the visitors continued to threaten.

There was a scare for the Pars on 29 minutes when goalie Lee Robinson lost control of the ball on the ground to McMullan but ref Willie Collum blew for a foul against the United man.

McManus should have made it 2-0 on 35 minutes when, from what looked like an offside position, he broke clear and raced towards goal. United keeper Deniz stood up to him, though, and made a superb save.

A 25-yard shot from Fraser whizzed past the Pars’ post with McDonald unable to flick the ball into the net as he would have been offside.

Dunfermline, just as they did on Tuesday, hit the woodwork, with Clark’s header off Aird’s cross smashing against the face of the Tangerines’ bar.

The scoreline could have been even better than it was but the away fans were delighted with their team and roared the players off at the interval.

United striker Mikkelsen came on at half-time for McMullan and the big Dane had a major role to play as the home team pulled level on 57 minutes.

They won a corner out on the right and it was taken by Billy King. The cross was met by Mikkelsen’s forehead and McDonald nipped in from close-range and flicked the ball into the net.

There was a big blow for the home team on 63 minutes, when they lost goalie Deniz to injury.

He appeared to hurt himself while celebrating the goal and played on initially but was eventually replaced by Harry Lewis.

Lewis was called into action quickly and did brilliantly to keep out a McManus header, diving to his left to claw the ball away.

The Tannadice men came close when King’s corner was nodded over by Stewart Murdoch.

That was the precursor to their second goal and it was an absolute cracker from Stanton.

With 70 minutes on the clock, the midfielder strolled through the heart of the Dunfermline defence riding challenges until he threaded the ball through Robinson’s legs and into the net to make it 2-1.

Fraser tried his luck with a shot from outside the box with 10 minutes remaining but Robinson did well to hold it.

The visitors were trying everything now and brought on both Jean-Yves M’Voto and Joe Cardle, both playing up front.

For his part, Laszlo threw on defender Mark Durnan for King as they faced five minutes of added time.

The Pars kept pressing but, despite doing themselves proud over the two games, it is game over for them as United march on.

Attendance: 7,994.

Dundee United: Deniz (Lewis 63), Murdoch, McMullan (Mikkelsen 46), McDonald, Fraser, King (Durnan 89), Stanton, Flood, Robson, Ralston, Mohsni. Subs not used: Edjenguele, Slater, Gillespie, Smith.

Dunfermline: Robinson, Williamson, Martin, Morris, Ashcroft, Higginbotham (M’Voto 74), McManus, Clark, Aird, Vincent, Craigan (Cardle 84). Subs not used: Gill, Wedderburn, Armstrong, Talbot, Paton.

Referee: Willie Collum.