Dundee United suffered play-off heartache as they were edged out 1-0 by Premiership Hamilton Accies in the play-off final second leg at New Douglas Park.
A 64th-minute strike from Accies midfielder Greg Docherty was enough to seal a 1-0 aggregate victory and keep his side in the top-flight, in the process, condemning the Tangerines to another season in the Championship.
Manager Ray McKinnon made just the one change from the first leg with Charlie Telfer in for the departed Wato Kuate but went with a change of system – a narrow 4-3-1-2 with Tony Andreu in behind the front two.
And for the opening period the change had the desired effect as the Tangerines started the better of the two sides with Andreu bringing a good save from goalkeeper Remi Matthews with a snapshot from a Blair Spittal corner.
On 10 minutes, Accies had their first sight of goal after a poor pass from Willo Flood in the centre of the park. Rakish Bingham found Ali Crawford who fired at goal but couldn’t find the corner.
The Tangerines continued to make the running but simple individual mistakes and needless free-kicks given away in dangerous positions gave the home side the better of the opportunities.
And it was Accies dangerman Crawford who tested Cammy Bell twice in close succession. The first on 24 minutes was saved low by Bell but dropped invitingly in front of goal. Paul Dixon, though, was on hand to clear over the bar.
Then five minutes later, Hamilton thought they were in front as Crawford shot through a crowd only to see Bell leap to his right to push the ball out with a tremendous save.
United’s attacks had dried up as the half wore on but were almost gifted the lead after Scott McMann sliced a clearance towards his own goal and then watched with relief as goalkeeper Matthews tipped over. From the resulting corner, the ball dropped to Thomas Mikkelsen but he smashed the ball well over the crossbar.
After the break, United started on the front foot and after 51 minutes Dixon had a sighter at goal, firing in a well-struck volley from 20 yards but hit it straight at the goalkeeper.
On 57 minutes, once again Bell was to United’s rescue as Louis Longridge’s cross found Dougie Imrie free at the back post only to see the Tangerines keeper block his effort.
United were beginning to look a little tired as the game passed the hour mark before being dealt a huge blow on 64 minutes as the home side grabbed the all-important first goal. Docherty, only in the team because of the suspension of Darian McKinnon, smashed in a fine shot across Bell and into the bottom corner.
The Premiership side had their noses in front and were more than happy to sit back and hit United on the break as the game got stretched heading into the final stages of the game.
With seven minutes to go, the largely ineffectual Simon Murray had his best sight of goal only to clip his effort over the crossbar from an angle. Then moments later a long ball forward from Blair Spittal was nodded to Murray by Mikkelsen on the edge of the area but his volley went straight at Matthews in the goal.
In the end the punishing run of play-off fixtures seemed to have taken their toll on the Tangerines and this, their sixth match in under three weeks, was just a step too far as they have to wait another year to get themselves back to the top flight.
Dundee Utd: Bell, Dillon, Dixon, Durnan, Spittal, Murray, Telfer (Fraser 71), Edjenguele, Flood, Mikkelsen, Andreu.
Hamilton: Matthews, Skondras, Gillespie, Imrie, Docherty (Lyon 78), Redmond, Crawford, Gogic, Bingham (Sarris 87), McMann, Templeton (Longridge 54).