Csaba Laszlo’s side bounced back from their 6-1 hammering by Falkirk last week to draw 0-0 against third placed Dunfermline at East End Park.
The Pars had been bit by a flu bug which meant Cammy Gill had missed last weekend’s trip to Dunbarton. His return for this match coincided with Lee Ashcroft and Callum Smith missing out versus second top United due to a similar problem. Craig Burt dropped out of the squad while Brandon Luke made up numbers on the bench following his loan spell with Annan Athletic. Callum Morris regained his place in the backline too.
For the visitors, the changes were rung by their Hungarian manager; Paul Quinn dropped onto the bench, while Brandon Mason and James Keatings missed out all together. Paul McMullan returned from suspension against his old employers while Mark Durnan returned to the starting eleven after he was on the bench versus Falkirk. Danish striker Emil Lyng made his first start for the Arabs as well.
Allan Johnston’s men were quick out of the blocks. After winning possession back almost straight from kick-off, Declan McManus was afforded space to shoot from distance but his left-footed effort went wise of Harry Lewis’ goal.
McManus continued being a thorn in the side of Dundee United in the early stages, seeing Lewis tip his header over the bar, from Jason Talbot’s delivery, albeit the offside flag was up.
Then, he charged in-field from the left and powered a right footed attempt which was goal bound until Durnan bravely stuck his head in the way to block the effort.
Laszlo’s side got their first real foray forward soon after as McMullan got in behind Talbot but the wingers effort was saved by Lee Robinson in the Dunfermline goal.
The match opened up as both sides looked to break the deadlock. Nicky Clark shot wide for the hosts before on-loan Colchester United midfielder Craig Slater was narrowly wide with a long-range free-kick.
A long ball saw Lyng put Jean-Yves M’Voto under pressure. The Frenchman mistimed a header back towards his own goal but regained his position quickly enough to avert the danger by deflecting the Dane’s effort wide of target.
A lively first half had ended goalless but it set the second half up nicely.
Sam Stanton shot wide early on as Laszlo’s men started the penultimate quarter of the match strongly.
Caprain Willo Flood was next to shoot but his effort flashed across goal without getting the vital touch required to open the scoring.
As the hour mark approached, momentum swing back into the hands of the Fifers: firstly, Michael Paton’s delivery was missed by Lewis but Cardle’s effort was blocked at the far post with the on-loan Southampton youngster flapping at thin air.
Next, Paton curled a left-footed effort inches wide from close-range before McManus was set in the clesr through a long-ball but the United defender just done enough to put the ex-Aberdeen striker off, with Lewis blocking with his feet.
Nat Wedderburn was off-target with a left-footed effort before Canadian Fraser Aird replaced Cardle on the left. The winger almost made an instant impact but his flighted free-kick was nodded over the bar by Pars captain Callum Morris.
McMullan used his pace to get in behind but Robinson saved at his near post before a shot by Slater was slammed wide from the resulting corner. Lyng then headed a cross over the bar from close-range as United pushed to break the deadlock.
Paul Quinn had come on for Stanton as the game entered the closing stages; McManus had a header tipped over the bar while at the other end, Jamie Robson’s cross was cut out by M’Voto whose defensive block looped into the air and narrowly over the crossbar.
Kallum Higginbotham and Andy Ryan came on with moments to spare but they couldn’t bring Dunfermline to within 4 points of their opponents.
McManus had one final effort but he was to be denied again! This time, it was the outside of the post which thwarted the hosts deep into injury time.
FULL TIME: Dunfermline Athletic 0-0 Dundee United
25. Lee Robinson
2. Ryan Williamson
4. jean-Yves M’Voto
5. Callum Morris (Captain)
14. Jason Talbot
15. Michael Paton (Kallum Higginbotham 88′)
27. Dean Shiels
8. Nat Wedderburn
11. Joe Cardle (Fraser Aird 69′)
9. Declan McManus
10. Nicky Clark (Andy Ryan 88′)
20. Cammy Gill (GK)
3. Lewis Martin
7. Kallum Higginbotham
16. Andy Ryan
17. Fraser Aird
21. Brandon Luke
25. Harry Lewis
16. Willo Flood (Captain)
4. Mark Durnan
3. Tam Scobbie
17. Jamie Robson
7. Paul McMullan
15. Craig Slater
12. Sam Stanton (Paul Quinn 75′)
11. Billy King
8. Scott McDonald
58. Emil Lyng
21. Deniz Mehmet (GK)
5. Paul Quinn
18. Scott Allardice
26. Cammy Ballantyne
28. Matthew Smith
36. Louis Appere
38, Logan Chalmers
Referee: Bobby Madden