A remarkable, not to mention gutsy, fightback saw Craig Easton’s young Dundee United progress in a five-goal Irn-Bru Cup thriller against St Johnstone U/21s at Tannadice last night.
Looking dead and buried by a fine Callum Hendry double for Saints, the Tangerines roared back with three goals in the final half-hour to book their place in the second-round.
Winger Paul McMullan, one of a sprinkling of first-team squad members in the home ranks, was the hero with two goals, including an injury-time winner.
But it was a battling team performance that turned the tie in United’s favour, much to the delight of manager-for-the-night Easton.
“It was a bit of character from the team as a whole,” was how the reserve team boss put it.
“To go 2-0 down to anybody, albeit a young St Johnstone team who were excellent I thought, it’s not going to be easy.
“But I think they just believed they were going to come back. They kept working hard and in the end got their reward.”
He was particularly pleased heads did not go down when, to a point, luck seemed to be going against United by the end of a first half in which they’d played OK but still went in at the break trailing to a fine Hendry header.
“In the first half I didn’t think we were doing a lot wrong and were probably the better team until we went behind.
“It was a good header but we were disappointed to lose a goal from a corner and with the way we conceded.
“But at half-time I thought to myself we hadn’t done a lot wrong, though we maybe needed a wee bit more quality with the final ball in the final third.
“We told them that at half-time but we didn’t start the second half and St Johnstone came out the first 15 minutes, were the better team and we’re 2-0 down.
“We lost a goal on the break when we were a bit open, but I’ll tell you, it was a good break and a great finish from the boy Hendry.
“Then we get a goal back through Logan Chalmers. It was a bit scrappy but it was reward for the way the boys kept at it and after we were on the front foot.
“In the end, it was maybe a bit harsh on St Johnstone it didn’t go to penalties because they played well but I felt once we got that first goal we were pushing forward.”
That determination to put pressure on the opposition goal saw McMullan step up with his brace.
The equaliser came when he won the ball in the middle of the park, drove forward and produced a fine finish after a neat one-two with Matty Smith.
There were 12 minutes left at that point and, if penalties were looming large, the home pressure meant there was always a chance a winner would come.
With just seconds left of injury time it did as McMullan again showed drive before producing another fine finish, this time from the edge of the area.
One of five players who’d already started for the first team in competitive games already this term, Easton felt the winger showed exactly the attitude required to put himself in manager Csaba Laszlo’s thoughts when league business resumes.
“I thought Paul was a presence all night and if he over-hit a few of his crosses first half, he kept getting the ball in and his two finishes were quality.”
For Easton, it was a pleasing first top-team game in charge and a reminder that if the league is the priority this season, United still want to do well in this competition.
“You look at the reaction of our players at the end and the disappointment of the St Johnstone boys and you see it matters.”