Dundee United secured fourth place in the Scottish Premiership – and sparked a pitch invasion from their fans – after Nicky Clark’s dramatic late winner against Ross County.
Blair Spittal’s screamer had given County the lead but the advantage did not last long, with Clark scoring from the spot a few minutes later.
A draw was all United needed to leapfrog Motherwell, but Clark’s 89th-minute tap in sparked scenes of bedlam in the away end to give United their highest league finish since 2014.
Finishing fourth means Tam Courts’ side secure another £ 500,000 in prize money and entry to the Europa Conference League qualification at the third round.
It was a much-changed County side, which Malky Mackay insisted was enforced. Adam MacKinnon made his debut start, Declan Drysdale his first since January and Ben Paton his first since October.
Kick-off was delayed by five minutes as United’s boisterous support got their European party started. Tangerine flares and white streamers rained down on to the pitch around goalkeeper Benji Siegrist, in what may well be his final United appearance.
As the goals flurried in from the other two top-six games, this one took a while longer to warm up. However, Blair Spittal fired a few warning shots at the United goal – a sign of what was to come.
Archie Meekison, impressive in United’s midfield, came closest to opening the scoring, though. Scampering on to a Tony Watt through ball, he only had to beat goalkeeper Ross Munro – making his Premiership debut – but smacked off a post.
The visitors could have taken the lead moments into the second-half, too. Dylan Levitt, who’s been in fine goal-scoring form, found himself completely unmarked in the area but managed to skew wide from eight yards out.
County looked to make United pay for their profligacy. A cleared cross was worked to Spittal, who took aim and found the top corner from outside the area.
That gave United the jolt they needed. Harry Paton tripped Ilmari Niskanen in the box and Clark slotted home from the spot to restore parity and put United back into fourth as it stood.
It was one-way traffic after that, with United looking for a winner. They found it in the 89th minute to spark chaos in Dingwall.
Kieran Freeman was picked out on the right by Tony Watt, and his cut-back found Clark to slide in from close range – repeating his game-winning double against County that he also managed in January at Tannadice.
Man of the match – Nicky Clark
What did we learn?
A sea of Tangerine support shimmered and swayed throughout the match. They really played the part of the 12th man – sometimes getting too close to the action – and buoyed their side to finding a winner.
United haven’t always been great to watch this season, but Courts’ achievement of claiming fourth in his first season in top-flight management should be lauded.
It’s a young squad at Tannadice, and he has every reason to be encouraged about where this group could go – should he remain there next season.
As for County, they have discovered that football is a cruel game. Rising from the ashes, they’ve burnt out a little too early and finished with one point from their last five games.
Again, they should take great belief from the majority of this season. If they are able to hold on to Mackay and the bulk of their squad, they can have a fair crack at the top six again next season.
What did they say?
Ross County manager Malky Mackay: “In the second-half, I thought ‘I’m going to put some kids on and really go for it’. Overall, I’m very happy with the players in terms of their application.
“It has been a journey. I’m delighted that everyone has pulled together to put us where we are. I’m very proud of the players and staff at the football club, to be one of the top six clubs in this country. “
Dundee United manager Tam Courts: “I was frustrated at half-time but these players have shown on multiple occasions that they won’t be deterred. They bounced back and showed a lot of character and quality.
“They were roared on by a huge Dundee United following. It was a really special moment when they got the winner.”
- 2RandallSubstituted forWrightat 84 ‘minutes
- 5BaldwinBooked at 90mins
- 32MackinnonSubstituted forPatonat 53 ‘minutes
- 17Charles-CookSubstituted forSimsat 52 ‘minutes
- 17MeekisonSubstituted forMcDonaldat 80 ‘minutes
- 33McMannSubstituted forNiskanenat 55 ‘minutes
- 58Anim Cudjoe
- Nick Walsh
Match ends, Ross County 1, Dundee United 2.
Second Half ends, Ross County 1, Dundee United 2.
Jack Baldwin (Ross County) is shown the yellow card for a bad foul.
Nicky Clark (Dundee United) wins a free kick on the left wing.
Foul by Jack Baldwin (Ross County).
Corner, Dundee United. Conceded by Declan Drysdale.
Goal! Ross County 1, Dundee United 2. Nicky Clark (Dundee United) right footed shot from very close range to center of goal. Assisted by Kieran Freeman.
Foul by Tony Watt (Dundee United).
Ben Paton (Ross County) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Attempt blocked. Tony Watt (Dundee United) header from a difficult angle on the left is blocked. Assisted by Charlie Mulgrew with a cross.
Corner, Dundee United. Conceded by Ben Paton.
Attempt missed. Ross Graham (Dundee United) header from the center of the box misses to the right. Assisted by Dylan Levitt with a cross following a corner.
Corner, Dundee United. Conceded by Jack Baldwin.
Attempt missed. Kevin McDonald (Dundee United) right footed shot from outside the box is close, but misses to the left. Assisted by Charlie Mulgrew.
Substitution, Ross County. Matthew Wright replaces Connor Randall.
Substitution, Dundee United. Kevin McDonald replaces Archie Meekison.
Foul by Archie Meekison (Dundee United).
Josh Sims (Ross County) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Offside, Ross County. Ross Munro tries a through ball, but Harrison Paton is caught offside.
Foul by Ilmari Niskanen (Dundee United).