Dundee United moved to within three points of third place in the Scottish Premier League with victory over 10-man St Johnstone at McDiarmid Park.

Scott Robertson steered home a low strike on 31 minutes, following a terrible miss from Willo Flood.

St Johnstone striker Francisco Sandaza was sent off for a retaliatory kick early in the second half.

And United were content to hit on the break, with a sweet John Rankin strike settling the match in injury time.

The win stretches United's unbeaten run against the Perth side to 16 games and is their seventh win in their last eight league outings.

Saints, who drop to fifth, handed a debut to recent signing Derek Riordan and the former Hibs forward was busy in the opening minutes.

United goalkeeper Dusan Pernis awkwardly scooped away a low, curling free kick from Riordan and Cillian Sherdian could only slam the rebound against the post from close range.

Riordan then produced an excellent cut-back for Murray Davidson on edge of penalty area but the midfielder shot straight at Pernis.

It took the visitors 10 minutes to muster a threat as Robbie Nielson popped up at the back post to meet a teasing delivery from Paul Dixon but the full-back was let down by his chest control and a good chance was squandered.

United should have been in front five minutes later when St Johnstone keeper Alan Mannus fumbled under pressure from Gavin Gunning and Flood somehow blasted over the crossbar from inside the six yard box.

Flood later whipped in a great delivery for Jon Daly but United's top scorer saw his header flash narrowly wide of the target.

Soon after, Daly was involved as United took a deserved lead.

The Irish striker did well to hold up a long ball and lay it into the path of Rankin, who had his progress halted by a defensive block. Robertson knocked the loose ball on and it came back to him via Rankin before the midfielder drilled in an angled finish from 16 yards.

Gary Mackay-Steven set off on a gallop from his own half but David McCracken made a vital tackle, only for Mannus to make a hash of his attempted clearance. The ball fell for Daly but he couldn't get the ball under control in time to punish the keeper.

Mannus continued to look nervous when failed to gather a Flood free kick and he was scrambling to keep out a venomous long-range strike from Dixon at the end of the first half.

St Johnstone's cause was dealt a huge blow on 57 minutes when Sandaza was shown a red card for his reaction to a challenge from Sean Dillon.

Having been ordered off by referee Euan Norris, the Spanish striker exchanged a few heated words with the United defender before angrily shoving team-mates Jamie Adams and Dave MacKay.

With St Johnstone reduced to 10 men, United were content to sit back and hit on the break as Daly headed wide and Robertson warmed the palms of Mannus with a stinging shot.

A Dixon cross was then knocked down by Johnny Russell but Daly's effort on the turn flew wide.

In the third minute of injury time, Rankin strode forward and fizzed a cracking strike out of reach of the diving Mannus to double the margin of victory.

St Johnstone manager Steve Lomas: "Fran has kicked out, for whatever reason.

"He's let his team-mates down today. I'm a big fan of Fran and will back him to the hilt, but you just can't kick out on a football pitch and he left us a mountain to climb.

"We as a club just can't afford to play against a full strength Dundee United with 10 men.

"I thought the lads that were left out there battled manfully and they got the second when we were just throwing everything forward.

"It's disappointing, we're all gutted, but Dundee United are only two points ahead and it's going to change week by week.

"It puts pressure on now to go and try to get wins away from home, which isn't easy, especially at Motherwell, Celtic and Hearts.

"We're under no illusions, but one thing I do know is our boys won't throw the towel in."

Dundee United manager Peter Houston: "It's a huge three points for us today but it doesn't mean we're going to end up in the Champions League.

"St Johnstone in the first five minutes could've scored two goals and for the rest of the 35, 40 minutes we started creating chances.

"I don't think the sending off helped us in many ways. We were getting a wee bit jittery near the end, so the goal was nice but I was hoping he (Rankin) would've taken it into the corner."

Lineup, Bookings (4) & Substitutions (5)

St Johnstone

  • 15 Mannus
  • 02 MacKay
  • 05 Wright
  • 12 Maybury
  • 18 McCracken (Anderson - 52' )
  • 08 Davidson
  • 16 Robertson
  • 20 Adams Booked (Moon - 75' )
  • 11 Sheridan
  • 21 Sandaza Dismissed after an earlier booking
  • 47 Riordan (Haber - 59' )

Substitutes

  • 01 Enckelman
  • 06 Anderson
  • 14 Moon
  • 29 McIntosh
  • 22 Oyenuga
  • 23 Haber
  • 46 Keatings

Dundee Utd

  • 01 Pernis
  • 02 Dillon
  • 03 Dixon
  • 18 Gunning (Watson - 54' )
  • 26 Neilson
  • 06 Flood
  • 08 Robertson
  • 11 Rankin
  • 17 Mackay-Steven (Ryan - 89' )
  • 09 Daly
  • 15 Russell Booked

Substitutes

  • 13 Banks
  • 12 Watson
  • 14 Douglas
  • 07 Ryan
  • 10 Swanson
  • 16 Armstrong
  • 22 Dow
Ref: Norris
Att: 5,826

Match Stats

Shots

6 13

On target

6 6

Corners

1 9

Fouls

16 13

Live Text Commentary

90:00 +3:36 Full time

Full Time The final whistle is blown by the referee.

90:00 +2:36

Assist on the goal came from Willo Flood.

90:00 +2:36 Goal scored

Goal! - John Rankin - St J'stone 0 - 2 Dundee U A goal is scored by John Rankin from just outside the box to the bottom right corner of the goal. St Johnstone 0-2 Dundee Utd.

90:00 +1:59

Free kick awarded for an unfair challenge on Sean Dillon by Alan Mannus. Dusan Pernis takes the direct free kick.

90:00 +1:26

Free kick crossed right-footed by Kevin Moon from right wing.

90:00 +1:26 Booking

Booking The referee cautions Johnny Russell for unsporting behaviour.

90:00 +1:20

Free kick awarded for an unfair challenge on Steven Anderson by Johnny Russell.

90:00 +0:03

The official flags Cillian Sheridan offside. Dusan Pernis takes the indirect free kick.

89:16

Effort from the edge of the area by Paul Dixon goes wide of the right-hand post.

88:38

Dusan Pernis restarts play with the free kick.

88:38 Substitution

Substitution Gary Mackay-Steven leaves the field to be replaced by Richie Ryan.

88:38

The offside flag is raised against Cillian Sheridan.

79:42

Short corner worked by Gary Mackay-Steven.

79:33

Gary Mackay-Steven sends in a cross, David MacKay gets a block in.

78:49

Close range shot by Jon Daly misses to the left of the goal.

76:37

Free kick awarded for an unfair challenge on Willo Flood by David Robertson. Dusan Pernis takes the direct free kick.

75:50

Unfair challenge on Alan Maybury by Willo Flood results in a free kick. Alan Maybury takes the free kick.

74:37 Substitution

Substitution Kevin Moon is brought on as a substitute for Jamie Adams.

73:37

Free kick awarded for an unfair challenge on Willo Flood by Jamie Adams. Direct free kick taken by Dusan Pernis.

71:51

Alan Maybury fouled by Willo Flood, the ref awards a free kick. Alan Mannus takes the direct free kick.

71:39

Scott Robertson takes a shot. Save by Alan Mannus.

71:23

Murray Davidson takes a shot. Blocked by Sean Dillon.

70:01

Foul by Gary Mackay-Steven on David MacKay, free kick awarded. Alan Mannus restarts play with the free kick.

68:53

Free kick awarded for an unfair challenge on Paul Dixon by Cillian Sheridan. Dusan Pernis takes the direct free kick.

65:57

Outswinging corner taken by Gary Mackay-Steven from the left by-line, Headed effort from deep inside the penalty area by Jon Daly goes harmlessly over the crossbar.

65:32

Corner taken short by Gary Mackay-Steven.

62:18

Murray Davidson challenges Scott Robertson unfairly and gives away a free kick. Sean Dillon takes the direct free kick.

60:22

John Rankin challenges Jamie Adams unfairly and gives away a free kick. David Robertson restarts play with the free kick.

59:42

Jamie Adams fouled by Johnny Russell, the ref awards a free kick. Alan Mannus takes the direct free kick.

58:33

Alan Mannus takes the free kick.

58:33 Substitution

Substitution Marcus Haber comes on in place of Derek Riordan.

58:33

Johnny Russell is caught offside.

56:45

Free kick taken by Dusan Pernis.

56:45 Dismissal

Dismissal Francisco Sandaza receives a red card for second bookable offence.

56:38

Francisco Sandaza challenges Sean Dillon unfairly and gives away a free kick.

55:17

Dusan Pernis takes the direct free kick.

55:17 Booking

Booking Francisco Sandaza receives a caution.

55:10

Free kick awarded for an unfair challenge on Paul Dixon by Francisco Sandaza.

53:11 Substitution

Substitution Keith Watson comes on in place of Gavin Gunning.

51:11 Substitution

Substitution Steven Anderson is brought on as a substitute for David McCracken.

48:23

Free kick crossed by Paul Dixon, Jamie Adams manages to make a clearance.

48:23 Booking

Booking Jamie Adams is cautioned by the ref for unsporting behaviour.

48:11

Jamie Adams challenges Johnny Russell unfairly and gives away a free kick.

46:36

Paul Dixon challenges David Robertson unfairly and gives away a free kick. David MacKay takes the direct free kick.

45:01

The referee starts the second half.

45:00 +1:15 Half time

Half Time The half-time whistle blows.

44:38

Murray Davidson takes a shot. Blocked by Paul Dixon.

43:04

David MacKay produces a cross, clearance made by Paul Dixon.

41:26

Willo Flood gives away a free kick for an unfair challenge on Murray Davidson. Direct free kick taken by Jamie Adams.

41:09

Paul Dixon takes a shot. Save by Alan Mannus.

40:42

Foul by David McCracken on Jon Daly, free kick awarded. Gavin Gunning restarts play with the free kick.

40:26

Effort on goal by John Rankin from just inside the box goes harmlessly over the target.

36:35

Unfair challenge on Gary Mackay-Steven by Francisco Sandaza results in a free kick. Free kick crossed right-footed by Willo Flood from left wing, save by Alan Mannus.

35:45

Free kick awarded for an unfair challenge on Gavin Gunning by Murray Davidson. Free kick taken by Dusan Pernis.

35:20

Willo Flood challenges Alan Maybury unfairly and gives away a free kick. Alan Mannus takes the direct free kick.

33:31

Foul by Francisco Sandaza on Johnny Russell, free kick awarded. Dusan Pernis restarts play with the free kick.

32:28

Gavin Gunning challenges Cillian Sheridan unfairly and gives away a free kick. The free kick is delivered right-footed by Derek Riordan from right channel, Jon Daly manages to make a clearance.

31:13

Assist on the goal came from John Rankin.

31:13 Goal scored

Goal! - Scott Robertson - St J'stone 0 - 1 Dundee U Scott Robertson gets on the score sheet with a goal from inside the area to the bottom left corner of the goal. St Johnstone 0-1 Dundee Utd.

30:26

Alan Mannus produces a cross.

30:18

Headed effort from deep inside the area by Jon Daly misses to the left of the goal.

27:48

Corner taken left-footed by Gary Mackay-Steven, Foul by Gavin Gunning on Jamie Adams, free kick awarded. Alan Mannus restarts play with the free kick.

26:07

Unfair challenge on Alan Maybury by Jon Daly results in a free kick. Free kick taken by Alan Mannus.

25:19

Unfair challenge on Gary Mackay-Steven by David MacKay results in a free kick. Paul Dixon takes the direct free kick.

23:56

Sean Dillon takes a shot. Jamie Adams gets a block in.

23:26

Corner taken by Gary Mackay-Steven, David MacKay manages to make a clearance.

20:50

Corner taken right-footed by Willo Flood, save by Alan Mannus.

17:03

Unfair challenge on Paul Dixon by Francisco Sandaza results in a free kick. Paul Dixon takes the direct free kick.

15:34

Willo Flood takes a shot from inside the six-yard box clearing the crossbar.

15:14

Gary Mackay-Steven takes a outswinging corner.

14:56

Corner from right by-line taken by Willo Flood.

14:02

Willo Flood takes the outswinging corner, clearance made by Murray Davidson.

12:47

Willo Flood produces a cross, save made by Alan Mannus.

11:56

David Robertson concedes a free kick for a foul on Gary Mackay-Steven. The ball is crossed by Paul Dixon, Jon Daly takes a shot. Clearance by David McCracken.

11:05

Effort from the edge of the box by Scott Robertson goes wide of the left-hand post.

9:08

David Robertson delivers the ball, Dusan Pernis makes a save.

7:38

Derek Riordan takes the inswinging corner, clearance by Scott Robertson.

7:13

Francisco Sandaza takes a shot. Gavin Gunning gets a block in.

5:52

The ball is crossed by David MacKay, Sean Dillon manages to make a clearance.

3:53

Unfair challenge on Johnny Russell by Murray Davidson results in a free kick. Direct free kick taken by Paul Dixon.

1:50

Murray Davidson takes a shot. Save by Dusan Pernis.

0:14

Free kick awarded for an unfair challenge on Francisco Sandaza by Sean Dillon. Direct strike on goal from the free kick comes in from Derek Riordan, save by Dusan Pernis. Cillian Sheridan takes a shot. Save made by Dusan Pernis.

0:00

The game kicks-off.

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