The Irn-Bru Cup might not matter to Dundee United but Saturday’s second-round clash with Alloa at Tannadice might just prove to be one of the most significant days in their season.
Craig Easton’s mix of kids and fringe players showed guts and character but just fell short as they lost the lead late on before exiting on penalties.
As was signalled by less than 1,000 home fans turning up, however, few connected with the Tangerines will be bothered about that.
What was both important and a massive positive, was the sight of club captain Fraser Fyvie making his long-awaited return from injury.
Fyvie hadn’t been seen on Tannadice since two days before Christmas when a serious knee injury ended his season.
Given the difference in results with and without him last term, it could be strongly argued the minute he went down clutching his knee also effectively killed off the campaign for the team as a whole.
Now he’s back, manager Csaba Laszlo will be hoping he has the same influence as during his opening months at the club.
Encouraging as the sight of him running on was, he will, of course, still need time to get up to speed in terms of match sharpness.
Accordingly, the plan is for a few reserve outings to build strength and stamina before he returns to the full first team for the all- important Championship action.
For Laszlo and the fans that time can’t come soon enough but those who turned up on Saturday were at least given glimpses of just how much he has to offer.
There were a couple of passes from deep that turned defence into attack in an instant and a thunderous free-kick that provided the final action of game time and would have seen his return capped with a dramatic winner had it not be for a fine save from Neil Parry in the Alloa goal.
Indeed, in a strange 90 minutes that saw the visitors dominate possession at times, but for Parry, Easton could have been looking forward to the third round.
Over the piece, Alloa did more of the attacking but lacked the quality up front to finish off the good approach work.
Often hitting on the break, United were able to create clear chances but found Parry in top form.
After a crisp Matty Smith strike had given United the lead against the run of play on 15 minutes, Parry was soon denying the same player with an excellent stop, though somehow Greg Aitken failed to spot his touch and awarded a goal kick.
Parry’s ability was recognised before the interval when he then made a superb stop to touch a Paul McMullan free-kick round the post.
And he was the hero in the opening minutes of the second period as he plucked a Declan Glass 18-yarder out of the air, then did very well to beat away an Archie Thomas strike.
For all that, Alloa continued to look a threat and when they were finally given a clear chance, from the penalty spot, Alan Trouten made no mistake, sending the ball past Benjamin Siegrist for the equaliser.
If Jim Goodwin’s team fancied their chances of going on to get a winner in 90 minutes, they had further cause to be grateful to their goalkeeper as he denied Thomas and Fyvie in injury time to take the tie to a penalty shootout.
It saw nine of the 10 spot-kicks expertly despatched via the use of power, only for the otherwise excellent Thomas opting for placement instead, giving Parry his most routine stop.
It was the deciding moment, but for once a defeat included a bigger positive than the negative of losing.
That came on 70 minutes when Fyvie strode out on the pitch.