St Mirren and Dundee United scrapped out an absorbing goalless draw in the first leg of their Scottish Premiership play-off final at Tannadice.

With the hosts longing to end their three-year exile in the Championship, and St Mirren equally desperate to preserve their top-flight status for a second season, it was a tense, error-strewn contest.

Paul McMullan and Pavol Safranko had the best chances for the hosts, and the two Kyles – McAllister and Magennis – went closest for the Premiership side.

Neither side could edge ahead, though, meaning the fate of both is distilled down to what will be a nerve-shredding second leg in Paisley on Sunday.

Tension the only winner on scrappy night

St Mirren were unbeaten in their previous six, with manager Oran Kearney insisting his side were far better than when the two met in the Scottish Cup last 16. And, with only five of that team that lost 2-1 on show here, they performed with far superior resolve and organisation than in February.

The Paisley outfit’s threat mainly came from set plays, even if it was not necessarily their own men causing consternation. One Kyle McAllister free-kick was so tempting that United defender Mark Reynolds could not resist snapping a header straight at his startled goalkeeper, Benjamin Siegrist.

McAllister’s guile was a flickering presence. The on-loan Derby County winger was deployed on the right of the St Mirren attack, but chopped inside with menace. On one such occasion, he buffeted Jamie Robson aside and unleashed a fizzing shot that Siegrist clawed away from his top right-hand corner.

The Swiss goalkeeper did even better a minute after the break to thrust a hand at Kyle Magennis’ close-range back-post effort in a portent of what was to be a second-half that the Premiership side edged.

United had enjoyed the better of the first but struggled to create clear openings. For all that they rattled three past Inverness Caledonian Thistle in the second leg of the semi-final, Robbie Neilson’s side have founds goals a relatively rare commodity for large chunks of the campaign and so it was again here.

Ian Harkes had an early effort deflected wide after McMullan smuggled him into space with a cute pass, then McMullan himself scorched past his man in pursuit of a Nicky Clark lash forward but was denied by Vaclav Hladky.

McMullan, so influential in the semi-final, remained central to anything good about United’s work. When not panicking defenders by boring down on them with the ball at feet, he linked adroitly with Clark, and skidded across a couple of teasing deliveries that deserved more appreciation.

United lost at this stage to Hamilton Academical two years ago, and faltered in the semi-finals against Livingston last term, but the lingering memories of those disappointments did not dull the enthusiasm inside a Tannadice heaving with a little over 11,000 fans.

The noise cranked up a little more when, after consecutive corners, Ryan Flynn was forced to scramble away a goal-bound Peter Pawlett effort. Then, as stoppage time loomed, Safranko got a toe on to Robson’s low cross, but his jabbed effort was thwarted by an alert Hladky and the ball was scrambled clear.

And with that, it was done, leaving tension as the only winner on the night.

Tannadice

A toss of a coin & lack of real sniffers – analysis

Former Dundee United player & Sportsound pundit Allan Preston

It is a toss of a coin between the two of them. Looking at them, you wouldn’t guess who is the Premiership side and who is the Championship side. But United have the quicker, more skilful players in the wider areas and that might make the difference on Sunday.

Former Dundee manager & Sportsound pundit Neil McCann

In the front area of the pitch, United seem to have that bit of edge. You are looking for more from St Mirren being the Premiership side. You would expect them to do that on Sunday.

How many times have we seen real sniffers, like wee [John Robertson] Robbo, Ally McCoist, guys that just go in between the middle of the posts and get tap-ins? There was none of that tonight.

Line-ups

Dundee Utd

  • 1Siegrist
  • 44Watson
  • 55Connolly
  • 30Reynolds
  • 17Robson
  • 47Harkes
  • 19BouhennaBooked at 86mins
  • 7McMullan
  • 10ClarkSubstituted forStantonat 68′minutes
  • 50PawlettSubstituted forBoothat 73′minutes
  • 9SowSubstituted forSafrankoat 59′minutes

Substitutes

  • 3Booth
  • 4Frans
  • 12Stanton
  • 14Safranko
  • 16Smith
  • 25Smith
  • 34Laidlaw

St Mirren

  • 1Hladky
  • 2McGinn
  • 6MacKenzie
  • 15Baird
  • 16Popescu
  • 7Magennis
  • 21Hodson
  • 4McGinn
  • 8FlynnBooked at 17mins
  • 23McAllister
  • 20CookeSubstituted forMullenat 90+2′minutes

Substitutes

  • 3Muzek
  • 9Nazon
  • 18Mullen
  • 26Holmes
  • 28MacPherson
  • 35Ferdinand
  • 39Erhahon
Referee:
Bobby Madden
Attendance:
11,062

Match Stats

Home TeamDundee UtdAway TeamSt Mirren
Possession
Home42%
Away58%
Shots
Home9
Away4
Shots on Target
Home4
Away2
Corners
Home3
Away6
Fouls
Home18
Away18

Live Text

Match ends, Dundee United 0, St. Mirren 0.

Full Time

Second Half ends, Dundee United 0, St. Mirren 0.

Substitution

Substitution, St. Mirren. Daniel Mullen replaces Cody Cooke.

Attempt saved. Jamie Robson (Dundee United) right footed shot from the left side of the box is saved in the centre of the goal.

Foul by Stephen McGinn (St. Mirren).

Frederic Frans (Dundee United) wins a free kick in the defensive half.

Paul McGinn (St. Mirren) wins a free kick in the attacking half.

Foul by Pavol Safranko (Dundee United).

Foul by Kyle McAllister (St. Mirren).

Samuel Stanton (Dundee United) wins a free kick in the attacking half.

Booking

Rachid Bouhenna (Dundee United) is shown the yellow card for a bad foul.

Kyle Magennis (St. Mirren) wins a free kick in the defensive half.

Foul by Rachid Bouhenna (Dundee United).

Jack Baird (St. Mirren) wins a free kick in the defensive half.

Foul by Pavol Safranko (Dundee United).

Attempt blocked. Paul Watson (Dundee United) right footed shot from outside the box is blocked.

Foul by Cody Cooke (St. Mirren).

Mark Connolly (Dundee United) wins a free kick in the attacking half.

Corner, St. Mirren. Conceded by Mark Connolly.

Cody Cooke (St. Mirren) wins a free kick on the left wing.

Foul by Mark Connolly (Dundee United).

Substitution

Substitution, Dundee United. Callum Booth replaces Peter Pawlett.

Foul by Cody Cooke (St. Mirren).

Mark Connolly (Dundee United) wins a free kick in the attacking half.

Cody Cooke (St. Mirren) wins a free kick in the attacking half.

Foul by Mark Connolly (Dundee United).

Pavol Safranko (Dundee United) wins a free kick in the attacking half.

Foul by Mihai Popescu (St. Mirren).

Foul by Gary MacKenzie (St. Mirren).

(Dundee United) wins a free kick in the attacking half.

Cody Cooke (St. Mirren) wins a free kick in the attacking half.

Foul by Mark Connolly (Dundee United).

Substitution

Substitution, Dundee United. Samuel Stanton replaces Nicky Clark.

Kyle McAllister (St. Mirren) wins a free kick in the defensive half.

Foul by Jamie Robson (Dundee United).

Gary MacKenzie (St. Mirren) wins a free kick in the defensive half.

Foul by Pavol Safranko (Dundee United).

Corner, St. Mirren. Conceded by Jamie Robson.

Attempt blocked. Ryan Flynn (St. Mirren) right footed shot from outside the box is blocked.

Peter Pawlett (Dundee United) wins a free kick in the defensive half.