There were some new characters but it was a case of the same old story for Dundee United as they drew a blank for the second game running.
Following their goalless draw against Aberdeen at Tannadice, United toiled to another Premiership stalemate against St Johnstone in Perth on Saturday.
Saints dominated the clash at McDiarmid Park, enjoying 56.5% possession, putting in 24 crosses from open play and firing in 14 shots to United’s three – none of which were on target.
Most of those tangerine opportunities came early in a contest that was all St Johnstone.
Poor delivery and the lack of a final pass hindered a United side failing to break the lines and often resulting in launching long balls.
The poor service, being double-teamed and the lack of help in pressing from his team-mates left star man Lawrence Shankland cutting a frustrated figure throughout.
Although United started with a front three of Shankland, Nicky Clark and Marc McNulty, making his full debut, the hosts were looking the most dynamic and dangerous.
Down the right was where Callum Davidson’s side got most of their joy with Craig Conway, Danny McNamara and Jason Kerr often creating an overload against left wing-back Jamie Robson.
Conway, McNamara, Stevie May and, particularly, David Wotherspoon were a thorn in the Tangerines’ side.
In fact, Canadian international Wotherspoon had more touches in the box than United’s front three combined – seven to four.
United boss Micky Mellon says they expected to work hard defensively to get anything against St Johnstone but admits they must do the attacking side of the game better.
“It was just what we expected coming into a game like this,” Mellon said.
“We’ve worked very hard on the defensive side of things over the last few weeks and I don’t want to speak too soon but, up to this point, it’s come to fruition.
“We want to get better coming out from the back and having the ball ourselves, especially with the talent of the front three we have.
“McNulty will get fitter, he’s not quite there yet, but he showed in good spells on Saturday how dangerous he’s going to be.
“We need to get better at that first pass and finding the runs of the front three.
“They also have to retain it a little better but to get that right you have to have the platform of defending properly.
“Getting the clean sheets allows us to try to grow something.”
Once again, the Terrors’ attackers were starved of service as Mellon set up his team deep and narrow with central midfielders Dillon Powers, coming into the side, and Ian Harkes needlessly giving the ball away and making little impact going forward.
United registered a passing accuracy of 60.8%, with the Americans failing to win the midfield battle against Murray Davidson and Craig Bryson.
The systems were the same in shape only, with Saints’ 3-4-2-1 working far more effectively than the visitors – who seemed comfortable with being hard to beat.
Where three at the back suited St Johnstone’s marauding attacking centre-half Kerr and Conway and Wotherspoon complemented May to good effect, three looked a crowd for United.
Luke Bolton was hardly in the game on the right-hand side, while a lack of numbers in the middle of the park meant the Terrors never had a grip on the contest.
Liam Smith coming on at right-back saw McNulty exit play and United revert to a more comfortable and familiar shape, with Bolton pushing on.
However, Mellon was happy with his system, insisting they will soon reach ‘a good place’ in attack.
He continued: “It works both ways, they’ve got to keep it up there and let us come up to join them or the quality into them has got to be a wee bit better.
“In order to do that, for a team that’s just come up, you’ve got to get the balance right.
“That’s about getting the defensive side of it right first but we’ll be back in training tomorrow, working on both sides of the pitch again.
“The relationships will be built in training and with Marc getting fitter but, with the quality of that front three, it’s going to click at some stage.
“We’ll keep working on that and we’ll be in a good place.
“They’ll all play if it suits. If it looks like it’s going to give us an opportunity to score goals, which I believe it will, then yes.
“I don’t think we can be accused of coming here and sitting in for a draw with the team we’ve picked – we’ve got wingers at wing-back and all sorts.
“We came here to try to score goals as well as keep a clean sheet.”
Tactical changes in the second half were not enough to turn the tide, though, with United relying on the heroics of goalkeeper Benjamin Siegrist once again.
United’s No 1 was the top man against the Dons and did so again, making three saves, including terrifically denying Davidson with what would have been a winning header at the death.
The Swiss stopper’s importance is not lost on his manager.
Mellon added: “He’s a very good goalkeeper but that’s just meat and drink to him a save like that, it’s nothing out of the ordinary.
“That’s a mundane thing Benji does.
“We defended well throughout the game, particularly our 18-yard box – I thought we did that superbly well.
“We defended as a unit, too, and got a wee bit more pressure on them from the front in the second half which made them go more direct.
“I thought we looked really solid but I would just like us to be a wee bit better when we come out of that mode.
“I want us to be better with the football and, when we do get it up to the front men, retain it a bit longer up there so we can grow and get up with them.”