Dundee United 3 – Goodwillie 61, Conway 75, 86
Ross County 0
To paraphrase one journalist from a Saturday national newspaper, Ross County’s trip to Hampden Park on Saturday to contest the Scottish Cup Final against Dundee United, represented the biggest exodus from the Highlands since the clearances of the eighteen and nineteenth centuries. Because of the frenzied and voluntary nature of the highland descent to the lowlands, perhaps a better prescient would be the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745.
Putting aside the inevitable and muddled historical analogies, County’s Cup final appearance has become something of a phenomenon, projecting the still strong Highland identity on to a national stage. The 20 000 that the Staggies mustered to cross the highland fault-line for the Cup final seems somewhat of an unrealistic number, considering the population of Dingwall (the home of County) stands at just over 5 000, meaning support for the team, for the final at least, is regional rather than local. The football team’s own route to the final was impressive in itself, taking two Premier League scalps along the way, first dispatching Hibernian, then convincingly beating Celtic in the Hampden Park semi-final.
Dundee United proved to be one hurdle too many from the Highlanders, as the Arabs completed an impressive season, convincingly beating their opponents in a somewhat disappointing game. Ross County began with an offensive 4-3-3 formation – a statement of attacking intent – but this was soon pushed back to a backs-to-the-wall 4-5-1. The Tangerines were always going to represent a far sterner test than Celtic had and during the early exchanges, United looked very much the SPL outfit, containing County with ease, harrying effectively and repeatedly picking up possession.
The first time County threatened was on eighteen minutes when some excellent link up play in the final third led to an effective block from Andy Webster on the edge of the box. This served as a reminder to United that their opponents could play a bit and they were soon back on top, moving the ball well around their opponents’ penalty box and drawing a furious tackle from County’s Gary Miller, earning him the game’s first yellow card. United came close from the resulting free-kick, Gary Kenneth heading narrowly over the bar from a fine cross. Danny Swanson had the best chance of the half with an impressive individual effort, using his pace to fly through the centre of the Ross County defence before Alex Kenny put in an excellent block on his well hit shot. Minutes later a looping Craig Conway ball over the top of the defence found David Goodwillie in front of goal, whose shot was again blocked by the excellent Kenny. An increasingly dominant United tested the County keeper a minute later and the Highlanders would have been relieved when half-time arrived.
The second half began much as the first had ended, with the Dundee side dominating possession and creating a cluster of half chances. County were forced into a defensive substitution when Paul Lawson replaced Steven Craig in an attempt to give the Highland side some composure. United continued to press and Swanson should have done better, heading wide from an excellent Morgaro Gomis cross. Just when County’s reorganization was threatening to cause United problems, the Arabs struck first with a stunning 25-yard chip from David Goodwillie after the Ross County keeper Michael McGovern was left exposed, failing to clear the danger. The Dingwall side rallied and tested the United keeper for the first time after 68 minutes when a well worked build up led to Martin Scott side-footing the ball from 20 yards straight at the Dundee United goalkeeper. However, Craig Conway, who had been largely anonymous, confirmed the Cup would be heading to Dundee after 75 minutes, making a probing run from the left wing, outmuscling one defender, then riding a further wild challenge before finishing coolly, before adding a third with five minutes remaining. A tired County lost possession outside the box and Conway picked up the resulting cross, finishing well into the low left-hand corner of the goal.
The victory was fully deserved and Dundee United end an impressive season with their first trophy for 16 years to show for it. They outclassed their opponents, who appeared to choke on the big occasion, and the Arabs never really had to move out of first gear. The 20 000 Highlanders return home disappointed but can reflect on a unique adventure in which many friends have been won. With much extra revenue entering the club coffers, chairman Dave Siegel will certainly hope some of these fans will return to back his club for a potentially successful first division campaign next season.
Dundee United (4-4-2): Pernis – Kovacevic (Watson 83), Kenneth, Webster, Dillon – Swanson (Robertson 74), Gomis, Buaben, Conway – Daly, Goodwillie (Robertson 78)
Ross County (4-3-3): McGovern – Miller, Boyd, Scott, Morrison – Craig (Lawson 52), Vigurs, Keddie – Brittain, Gardyne (Di Giacomo 77), Barrowman
Dundee United – Ross County
4 – Corners – 2
11 (7) – Shots (on target) – 4 (3)
13 – Fouls – 18
2 (0) – Yellow cards (Red) – 2 (0)