Thankfully, with the wild winter weather slowly subsiding, conditions had improved in time for the Groundhoppers Gathering in Crail – a weekend away with friends to have a few drinks, regale on old tales and more importantly do the Dundee double – United on the Saturday and their close neighbours the following day. I had successfully managed to acquire a house with a heavy discount in Crail via a colleague at work and as people arrived and fish n’ chips were eaten discussion had already begun as to ‘what end will you be sitting in at the games’. With wee Jim being an ardent Dundee fan and Richard a United supporter it was shaping up to be an interesting weekend.
Saturday morning and we awoke to blustery showers and some doubts about the United match going ahead. However after breakfast the weather settled a little so we donned our winter woollies and set off through St Andrews and over the Tay to Dundee. By the time Matt’s minibus had arrived at Tannadice the pitch had passed an inspection and Jim had made the brave decision to sit in the home end amongst his rival supporters. Fourth place United faced third placed Hibs (our 5th and hopefully last time we see them this season) and despite both teams title hopes having faded in the last month or so it still promised to be an entertaining fixture. After losing their manager to the national side The Arabs form dipped rather alarmingly but recent victories in the cup and league had given them hope of a 3rd place finish at the very least.
Tannadice is a terrific ground to visit, certainly one of my favourites in Scotland. With a capacity of just under 15,000 it consists of five stands including the unusual Jerry Kerr Stand which runs along one side of the pitch and continues partly along behind one of the goals. On recommendation from Richard we took our place in the West Stand, affectionately known to the natives as ‘The Shed’ where the hardcore Dundee United fans once stood before they relocated to the more comfortable surroundings at the opposite end of the ground. ‘The Shed’ now houses away fans of Celtic and Rangers but when they’re not in town it seems to be mainly families and less regular visitors who occupy it.
United gave a home debut to goalkeeper Dusan Pernis while Hibs unsurprisingly dropped the out of form Colin Nish and brought in Patrick Cregg. The home side started quicker out the traps with a deflected Paul Dixon cross parried away well by Hibs goalkeeper Graeme Smith who then also denied a Jon Daley header at the back post. Hibs finally woke up and found Pernis alert when Riordan’s shot was saved but they had to reorganise their side when the disappointing Zemmama limped out of action. Then a roving run from United midfielder Prince Bauben was cut short a yard outside the box by Chris Hogg. Inexplicably the referee first signalled for a free kick but then on seeing a divot on the line changed his mind and gave the penalty. Hibs furious protests were tempered when Goodwillie’s penalty was saved by Smith and his rebound header embarrassingly drifted wide despite the open goal.
However the striker redeemed himself moments later when he expertly slipped through Danny Swanson who struck a low hard shot past Smith into the net. Hibs replied with a fiercely struck free kick by Rankin which Pernis saw late, dived, and tipped superbly round the post. Hibs went 3-4-3 in the 2nd half to try and bring some more attacking impetus to their play but it was their defence that was found wanting when Smith again blocked a Daly effort. The Edinburgh side did begin to push on in the last fifteen but Pernis was in inspired form, first blocking Miller’s drive and then with some confident and safe catches from the away side’s crosses. Wotherspoon could’ve snatched a point at the death but his shot cannoned off the post, bounced off Pernis and rolled away for a corner. In truth United thoroughly deserved all 3 points in what was an entertaining, hard fought 90 minutes and Hibs season may well be beginning to unravel a little. A special mention has to go to man of the match Morgaro Gomis whose tireless running and industry was not only pivotal to United’s victory but also a joy to watch for any supporter – he dominated the midfield from start to finish and I’ve no doubt will be key to United’s progress this season.
So we began our convoy back to Crail for an evening meal and some post match reflection before thoughts inevitably turned to the next day’s action.
Journey - 6
Pie - 4
Bovril - 6
Ground - 8
Game – 7