United gained three crucial points against fellow relegation candidates -and Buchan rivals- Longside at College Park on Saturday.
United should have had the game comfortably sewn up only for Longside to grab a late goal and set up a nervy finish before star striker Iain Bisset scored late on to seal the win.
United made a few changes to the side that lost heavily at Hall Russell the previous week. Danni Buchan, Fraser Davidson and Scot Robertson dropped out and Darren Ross and David Innes returned to the defence whilst Neil Forbes managed to shake off an ankle knock to grab a midfield berth.
United kicked off with a stiff breeze at their backs, but it Longside who pressed forward early. John Ross nipped down the right and unsuccessfully tried to split the United defence but in doing so he pulled up with an injury and was replaced by Stainton.
United immediately seized the initiative when on 6mins, Reid and Craik in the Longside defence failed to deal with a high ball through the centre from Neil Hay and Roy Noble lifted the ball past a helpless Thomson from the edge of the box.
United almost immediately doubled their advantage. Darren Ross lifted the ball down the inside left channel and Bisset raced clear, however he dallied on his shot and Reid got back to make a goal saving tackle.
From the resultant corner United maintained pressure on the Longside goal as Geddes narrowly headed over his own goal from McLeman’s corner.
McLeman’s dead-ball prowess almost yielded dividends on 12 minutes but Thomson saved well from the Broch players 23yard strike.
Longside were struggling to cope with the United midfield as Forbes and Davey Ross closed down the opposition tirelessly forcing Longside into a more direct approach that inevitably came to nothing.
Davey Innes came agonisingly close on 20mins as his header from Bisset’s short corner crashed off the bar and out to safety.
From Longside’s first meaningful chance they almost equalised. Whyte’s cross from the right saw Davidson get a toe onto the centre but Dunbar reacted brilliantly to deflect the ball onto the post and Reid cleared the danger.
Despite being a derby there was little in the way of malicious intent throughout the half, however on 37mins United’s Hay and Longside’s Usher became entangled and both appeared to lash out at the other, referee McLaren saw fit to hand a yellow card to Hay whilst Usher received a stern talking to. Both could consider themselves lucky not to have been sent off.
United’s Bisset continued to give the Longside defence nightmares with his pace and he again broke clear from Lawrence’s pass this time Thomson blocked well with the re-bound falling to Noble but with the goal gaping he blasted wide.
The second half followed the pattern of the first, Longside holding a high line which allowed lone striker Bisset to time and again out pace the sluggish Craik and Reid and but for some poor finishing and good goal keeping he could have had four or five. United’s top goal scorer went close early in the second half when he chipped the ball over Thomson but his effort went narrowly wide and in 49 minutes he again ran clear but Thomson saved brilliantly before the Longside defence scrambled the ball clear for a corner which came to nothing.
He finally got his reward on 61mins when Forbes split the defence and Bisset made no mistake by rounding Thomson and scoring.
Longside almost hauled themselves back into it immediately, a Whyte cross found Danton and his header came back off the post before Reid again cleared crucially to safety.
Another Bisset break saw Thomson block and this time Lawrence missed from the rebound as United tried desperately to grab a killer 3rd.
Miss of the season came on 77mins, when Bisset did everything right after being released by sub C. Ritchie he rounded Thomson but somehow contrived to put the ball wide from 5 yards with the goal gaping.
Against the run of play the visitors pulled a goal back in 81 minutes when Cowie played the ball to Campbell and his cross was met by Nicol Davidson to steer the ball into the net from 6yards.
This goal brought about a brief sustained period of pressure from Longside but United held firm and Bisset atoned for his earlier miss in the final minute as he out paced Reid, for the umpteenth time, to get on the end of A. Ritchie’s pass and he slotted under Thomson to cap an important win for United.
United’s co-manager Donn Allan was understandably happy, ‘After last weeks performance it was crucial that we freshened things up, we also tweaked the system and Longside didn’t have an answer.
But credit the lads for their work rate and desire, there is no doubt that we showed more hunger to win. We are still a long way from safe, but we have given ourselves a chance.’
Dunbar, Reid, Daz Ross, Hay, Innes, Davey Ross, Forbes, McLeman, Lawrence, Noble, Bisset. Subs: Tait, Davidson, A. Ritchie, C. Ritchie, Taylor, Robertson.