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Livingston 1 Dundee United 1 (agg 4-3): Tangerines staying down after play-off loss to Livi

Scott Fraser makes it 1-1.
Scott Fraser makes it 1-1.

Dundee United will spend a third season – at least – in the Championship after losing on aggregate to Livingston in the Premiership play-off semi-final.

There will be a takeover announced in the next week or so, with former chairman Stephen Thompson selling his shares to an American-based consortium, but the investors won’t be buying into a top-flight club.

United lost an early goal at the Tony Macaroni Arena – just like they did on Monday at Tannadice – with Alan Lithgow on target with a header after just six minutes. They grabbed a wonderful equaliser on 21 minutes through Scott Fraser but it wasn’t enough.

The 1-1 draw meant the West Lothian men went through thanks to their 3-2 victory in the first leg and will face either Partick Thistle or Ross County while the rebuilding job will begin for the Tangerines under, it appears, boss Csaba Laszlo.

The result brought an end to what has, at times, been a season from hell, with some terrible results that have had you reaching for the record books.

The United support deserve better and now we will all have to wait and see if they can finally build a team capable of getting out of this division.

The Tangerines made two changes to the team that kicked off the first leg.

With captain Willo Flood suspended, there was space in the middle of the park for Grant Gillespie.

At the back, out dropped left-back Jamie Robson and in came centre-back Mark Durnan.  That meant a sideways move for skipper for the night Stewart Murdoch from the middle to left and confirmed that Bilel Mohsni had recovered from his groin injury in time.

Once again, the United fans rallied behind their side and appeared to outnumber the home support. The teams were fighting for the right to face either Partick Thistle or Ross County in the final.

The DJ was playing The Only Way Is Up by Yazz before kick-off. An even louder din, though, came from the crowd as the players emerged from the tunnel.

United were on the attack on two minutes but Anthony Ralston appeared to be impeded as he tried to run up the right wing. Scott McDonald was then able to shoot from inside the home box but the strike was blocked.

Despite that early promise, though, the Tannadice men fell behind on six minutes.

It was yet another dreadful goal to lose and put them 4-2 behind on aggregate.

Declan Gallagher was the provider, nodding a long ball into the box across for Lithgow to head home at the back post.

It would now require a serious effort on United’s part to get back into the tie and their defending wasn’t helping, with a Mohsni attempted clearance on 15 minutes flying up into the air and no United player able to get the ball out of the box before keeper Harry Lewis finally clutched it.

They were on the attack a couple of minutes later, however, and first McDonald then Gillespie had efforts blocked. Great set up play by Gillespie set Billy King free up the left flank but his cross was overhit and a decent opportunity was squandered.

The pressure was mounting on Livi now and it was a deserved equaliser that came from the magic boot of Fraser on 21 minutes after he was found by a McDonald pass.

It was a lovely piece of skill from the midfielder that saw him twist and turn inside the area before firing a low, left-foot shot into the far corner.

On 25 minutes, Sam Stanton went down in the box after being challenged by Josh Mullin but ref Robertson waved play on.

Ralston should have done better on the half-hour when he ran unhindered into the box but his cutback was poor.

United chairman Mike Martin in the stands.

Former Tannadice striker Lee Miller was the first player booked a minute later for a foul on Mohsni then United’s Mark Durnan followed him seconds later.

A dangerous corner came in from Fraser three minutes before the break but the referee spotted a foul on goalie Neil Alexander and it was a let-off for Livi.

United’s Ralston was the next to get a yellow card for pulling back Mullin as Livi broke forward just before half-time.

The visitors survived a real scare just two minutes after the turnaround when Scott Pittman raced clear of their static defence and his shot rattled the post with Lewis beaten. Livi sub Jordan Thompson tried to convert the rebound but the Tangerines held on.

King then had a go for United with a low drive with 54 minutes on the clock but it was deflected away for a corner that came to nothing before home player Shaun Byrne was booked for a foul on Mohsni.

With the match reaching the hour-mark, Thomas Mikkelsen had first a shot blocked then a header wide as the away side continued to do most of the pressing.

Some brilliant play in the middle of the park from Fraser led to King finding space but his shot was pushed away for a corner by Alexander.

Livingston sub Thompson received a caution for taking down Fraser near the halfway line then McDonald was booked for fouling Thompson.

The United fans were shouting for sub Paul McMullan to be brought on but it was Matty Smith who appeared on the touchline to replace Mikkelsen on 76 minutes.

King had a snapshot saved by Alexander seconds later then the keeper also denied Durnan as United pushed and pushed.

McMullan finally came on for Gillespie on 83 minutes, with both sets of players looking tired going into the closing stages.

It could have been worse for United with two minutes to go when Nicky Cadden crashed a shot off the Tangerines’ bar.

United had a late opportunity to take it to extra-time but Alexander was there to save from McDonald and it was game over.

Attendance: 4,508.

Livingston: Alexander, Lithgow, Halkett, Gallagher, Longridge, Pittman, Byrne, Mullin (Cadden 68), De Vita (Thompson 19), Miller, Jacobs. Subs not used: Maley, Buchanan, McMillan, Robinson, Frizzell.

Dundee United: Lewis, Murdoch, Durnan, McDonald, Mikkelsen (Smith 76), Fraser, King, Stanton, Gillespie (McMullan 83), Ralston, Mohsni. Subs not used: Donaldson, Scobbie, Edjenguele, Slater, Robson.

Referee: Don Robertson.