Away Days: Dundee United v Ross County
“Stoppage Time – International Football Blog” has been on a journey to Glasgow to watch the final of the 125th Scottish Cup take place at Hampden Park between Scottish Premier League (SPL) club Dundee United and Scottish First Division (second tier) minnows Ross County, the first club from the Highlands of Scotland to reach this showpiece occasion in the competition’s history.
Three friends and myself went to Scotland’s national stadium on Saturday afternoon having had a drunken introduction to Glaswegian nightlife the previous evening only hours after arriving from a four hour drive from Liverpool. On the occasions that conversation with the locals turned to football most people’s reaction was the same; “So you’re going [to] the game? Who do you support?” Within moments of realizing that we were neutrals, two of whom from Scouseland and the other two from Germany, natural surprise would set in; “What do you want to watch that for? Unbelieveable!” But then maybe this reaction is natural from people in a city whose natives are so used to having either one or the other, if not both, of its two giant football clubs Celtic or Rangers play in the final every year. More surprising was that we had tickets for the Ross County section of the ground which was deliberate on our part because it was a truly historic occasion for the club from the small Highland village of Dingwall (population 6,000) whose team were in its first ever major cup final. Their opponents Dundee United had only ever savoured cup final success on one occasion in 1994 when the Terrors defeated Glasgow Rangers 1-0 thanks to a goal from Craig Brewster who, ironically, would be sitting on the bench for Ross County at Hampden Park as County’s assistant to manager Derek Adams.
So as we set off for the stadium it was obvious to all concerned that we should have a pre-match pint but all of the pubs in the vicinity had queues which stretched for what seemed like miles. Having finally managed to squeeze a couple of beers before the game the time was nigh to take the road to Hampden which was considerably shorter for us then it was for the two clubs who had both claimed some big scalps in the tournament before reaching the final. Dundee United had prevented Glasgow Rangers’ quest for the domestic Treble at the quarter-final stage when, in a replayed game, David Robertson claimed a dramatic last-gasp winner for the Tangerines whilst Ross County’s exploits were even more incredible, defeating Hibernian 2-1 in their replayed quarter-final before disposing of cup favourites Glasgow Celtic in the semi-finals thanks to goals from Steven Craig and Martin Scott. But could the Staggies claim a third big scalp or would this be a hurdle too far for the minnows?
The first half of the game, played in front of a crowd of 47,122 which was much larger than anticpated, was light on real goalmouth chances but Dundee United were usually the team that looked more likely to make a breakthrough at some point as they ran the Ross County defence ragged attimes in the first 45 minutes. The best chance of the half came with ten minutes remaining when County’s Alex Keddie came from seemingly nowhere to block a clear opportunity for Danny Swanson who was through on goal after playing a one-two with David Goodwillie. With the game goalless at the break many County were crossing their fingers that they could strike early in the second half and put the pressure on Dundee United but, when the whistle re-started the game, the Tangerines were the only team who looked like they could win the game having a few decent chances before the deadlock was finally broken with an hour of the match gone. County ‘keeper Michael McGovern, who had at times looked indecisive in his penalty box, came out to try and clear the ball only for it to fall to Goodwillie whose impressive lob sent the hoardes of Dundonians in the stadium wild. Craig Conway would go on to complete the scoring for United in the 75th and 86th minutes with two nicely taken goals to give Peter Houston his first silverware as coach after he took over from Craig Levein earlier in the season.
For Ross County the dream was finally over but their 15,000 strong contingent, including two Scousers and two Germans, gave the side the rapturous send-off the team deserved for what was a fantastic cup run for the Highland club and their followers will hope that they don’t have to wait another 125 years to make a second appearance in Scotland’s showpiece cup final. Dundee United, on the other hand, were celebrating their second ever Scottish Cup success and the party was only just beginning.