William Hill Scottish Cup
Dundee United 3
There was to be no upset at Stair Park in this cup tie as Dundee United marched into the next round but Stranraer produced a fine performance in front of the television cameras.
This would have allowed everyone to see the Blues are a capable side and indeed created many chances against their high flying Premiership opponents.
But they were ultimately let down by a couple of crucial errors at unfortunately critical moments and Dundee United had the pace and quality to take advantage.
A bright opening to the game saw chances at both ends. Ryan Dow was first to threaten when he burst into the penalty box but Scott Rumsby managed to block his cross while a Stranraer free kick from Chris Aitken found Frank McKeown in the box but he couldn’t keep his header down and it flew over the top.
United forced a corner as Nadir Ciftci tried to force a chance but Rumsby did enough to clear but the respite didn’t last long as the visitors broke forward minutes later and took the lead.
The goal came from a succession of mistakes as Callum Butcher skied a pass to Dow which he mis-controlled but when Sean Winter gave the ball to Chris Erskine the midfielder burst clear and marked his 28th birthday by stroking the ball through the legs of David Mitchell.
Stranraer responded positively and created three good chances in the next few minutes. Willie Gibson broke clear and passed inside to Stephen Stirling who in turn found Craig Pettigrew wide on the right. The full back advances before cutting inside and his left foot shot had Radoslaw Cierzniak beaten but Callum Morris was on hand to boot the ball off the line.
The resulting Aitken corner was headed towards his own goal by Morris under pressure from Rumsby and the United keeper made a good point blank reaction save.
As the ball came back once more Stirling flicked it into the path of Winter but he just couldn’t get contact and Cierzniak collected and was able to calm things down for the visitors.
Having missed those chances, disaster struck for the home as United doubled their lead on the next venture forward and again it was preventable.
Ryan Dow collected the ball on the left from Sean Dillon’s pass and with Rumsby misjudging his run, he skipped clear, cut inside and deftly dinked the ball past Mitchell with a smart finish.
The youngster, a lifelong United fan, looks certain to become one of the main beneficiaries at Tannadice with the departure of Stuart Armstrong and Gary Mackay-Steven to Celtic and he underlined that potential even further just four minutes later as United struck for a third time in just 10 minutes to effectively kill off the contest.
Ciftci was the creator this time with a lovely dummy to elude Grant Gallagher in midfield and then a great through ball to find a superbly timed run from Ryan Dow who got the wrong side of Rumsby and rounded Mitchell before completing the job, sliding the ball into the empty net.
Gibson and Stirling combined to earn a corner from which Stranraer almost scored once again. Aitken delivered and McKeown won the header under pressure from the goalkeeper but Ryan McGowan was on hand on the goal line to head the ball clear, unfortunate for Stranraer but it was proving to be the theme of the day.
A fairly even first half in terms of opportunities and possession ended with the difference between the teams reflected in the ruthless finishing of the visitors from Dundee and the scoreline more than a little harsh on Stranraer.
Stranraer opened brightly after the break and if Winter had managed more pace on his cross from the right after making a good run into space, then Malcolm would have had an easy chance, as it was Jaroslaw Fojut was able to clear quite easily.
Dow continued to look dangerous with his running off the ball and a through ball from Erskine was just out of his stride and Mitchell was able to collect. At the other end Malcolm forced Czierniak to spill loose ball but as Winter tried to find Aitken on the edge of the box a well-timed intervention from Butcher prevented the midfielder getting a shot away. Stranraer followed this with an excellent passage of play, keeping the ball for several minutes and eventually when Jackson Longridge broke into the box and found Malcolm, the Blues striker rolled into the path of Gallagher whose fizzing shot cannoned into Dillon who didn’t know much about it.
Jackie McNamara was a little disappointed that his side hadn’t kicked on after the break but was nevertheless delighted that they had secured safe passage through a tie that had been as difficult as he expected it could be.
Stranraer boss Stephen Aitken admitted that the clinical play of United in the final third had been the difference but expressed how proud he was of his players and their efforts against an extremely good side.