For all Sunday was made to feel like Rangers’ day at Tannadice, there were plenty of reasons to be cheerful for Dundee United.
Between light aircraft trailing a Light Blues-minded message overhead and fans hurling flares over the fence onto the pitch in the 55th minute in an attempt to goad United’s opponents Celtic, it was easy to forget there was a game to be played.
A goalless draw wasn’t the result either team would’ve wanted from the lunchtime kick-off but make no mistake, it is definitely one that hurt the Hoops more.
Dropping points meant their fiercest rivals were crowned champions for the first time since 2011, marking top-flight triumph No 55, and, finally, confirming Celtic’s failed title defence and fabled 10-in-a-row tilt.
The pain will only intensify in the run up to the Celts’ next match, an Old Firm clash at Parkhead a week on Sunday but, for United, a point represented a good day at the office.
Despite a share of the spoils not realistically being enough to keep the Tangerines in the hunt for a top-six finish, it points to progress.
Coming away from the game disappointed not to beat the then-defending champions is a far cry from where the club were a year ago – drawing 1-1 with Partick Thistle at Tannadice in their final game on the way to the Championship title before the coronavirus shutdown.
The Terrors, albeit sitting eighth behind the Buddies and St Johnstone with a goal difference that, although still mathematically possible, appears too much to overturn, have come on leaps and bounds under Micky Mellon.
‘We’re disappointed not to be in the fight for the top six but I can only be proud of the boys’
That they had enough chances to win it in the end was a point the United boss was keen to ram home as he assessed the game.
“We set our sights very high. We knew we had to be excellent and believe,” he said.
“To beat a team like Celtic we had to get pretty much everything right. We knew that.
“The players attacked it tremendously well in everything we asked them to do.
“We knew whatever might get flung at us, we had to be very good. The players were terrific.
“With 25 minutes to go I thought: ‘Wow, we’re like lightning, we’re going to take this’.
“At times, we have to show that wee bit of quality but we’ll learn.
“All that was missing was that wee bit of calmness and composure that would’ve sealed the deal for us.
“We’re disappointed not to be in the fight for the top six but I can only be proud of the boys.”
Swiss stopper Siegrist plays a starring role as Tangerines make strides forward
It was backs against the wall stuff at times, particularly in the first-half, with the Tangerines’ outstanding No 1 Benjamin Siegrist having to pull off some top-class saves to keep them in the contest – as has often been the case this term.
Some would say the home side rode their luck a little to go in level at the break but Mellon batted away that notion as he passionately defended his side.
🗣 "We're disappointed not to win. But going off that performance we'll be okay. We'll win games with what's left if we apply ourselves and have the right attitude."
— Dundee United FC (@dundeeunitedfc) March 7, 2021
“If you’re not good enough to put it in my net, you’re not good enough,” he added.
“Of course, we understood that we had to be very good in defending the 18-yard box.
“We had to be aggressive and make sure we limited Celtic but they were relentless and kept the ball all through the game.
“My keeper had to make some saves but that’s what he’s there for.
“They weren’t good enough to beat him and my keeper was good enough to deal with it.
“To say we’re disappointed to not get the victory is a big step forward for Dundee United.”
Mellon aiming to raise standards with Celtic display as a marker
The introductions of Peter Pawlett, Louis Appere and Logan Chalmers in the second half seemed to flip the game in United’s favour, with the Terrors the team pushing for a crucial three points in the aftermath.
They couldn’t quite do it but, with time to take stock of the season between now and Aberdeen’s visit to Tannadice a week on Saturday, it feels like we’re just at the beginning of the story for Mellon’s team.
Points will have to be picked up in the six games remaining to properly assess the success of the campaign but, if they continue to put in dogged displays like yesterday’s against lesser opposition and sprinkle in a little more quality, United will be fine.
Chances spurned and opportunities missed has probably been the story of what has been a decent first campaign back in the top flight, with the Tangerines now likely to battle it out to finish best of the rest in the bottom six.
With that as a marker, Mellon looks hell-bent on challenging his players to raise their standards moving into a brave new dawn.
“I’m not going to criticise but if we’re going to take it to the next level and win games like yesterday’s against Celtic then we have to take our chances,” he said.
“We’re driving the standards forward now with expectations.
“We come away from that expecting to be better in those moments and the players accept that.
To say we’re disappointed to not get the victory is a big step forward for Dundee United.”
Dundee United boss Micky Mellon.
“You see the young players coming on at the end and the ones in and around the bench as well, we’ve got a lot of good talent here.
“It’s about me making sure they have the wee toolkits necessary to come in and be the next generation of Dundee United players.
“We need to keep moving that forward with six games left now. We’ll go and attack them to try to get better.”