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AHEAD of yesterday's new firm derby there was a heartening if all too unusual SPL sight of fans full of anticipation queuing at the Tannadice turnstiles and it was the United supporters who went home happy, coming from a goal down to run out comfortable 3-1 winners at the end of a keenly contested game.

It was United who should have taken an early lead, as early as the second minute, Collin Samuel releasing David Robertson down the right and when his far post cross eluded the entire Dons defence it seemed as if all the unmarked Craig Conway had to do was to make contact in order to open the scoring.

However, so wretched was his effort that he could not even hit the target, the ball looping tamely past Langfield's post leaving the United fans groaning and wondering just how significant that miss might be.

In the ninth minute, United's lone striker, Samuel, sent his skipper Barry Robson free down the right, who turned Considine inside out then outside in before unleashing a low shot from a tight angle which Langfield saved.

As Aberdeen began to gain a foothold in the match and exert some influence, Lee Miller's 15th minute header from a Maguire cross was well saved by Stillie who did even better two minutes later, tipping a Scott Severin shot from the edge of the box behind to safety.

Maguire's wickedly inswinging corner evaded attackers and defenders alike but almost crept in at Stillie's far post shaving the base of the keeper's undefended upright.

In the 25th minute Aberdeen thought they had gone a goal in front and so too did everyone in the 12,000 plus crowd but home keeper Stillie had other thoughts.

Having missed in front of an open goal a minute earlier, Miller saw his close range shot from a Darren Mackie nod-on heading for goal when Stillie, arching backwards and down clawed the ball to safety with a save surely as good as any seen in the SPL in 2006.

The Dons grew confidence and Gary Dempsey's 25 yard free kick curled on to the underside of the United bar and down, looking suspiciously over the goal-line.

Despite their bright start, United had gone into their collective shells but skipper Robson almost scored in 32 minutes, a low left foot shot from 18 yards flashing just wide of a beaten Langfield. Three minutes later the United skipper repeated the move, this time with a right foot shot on the outside, but the end result was identical.

With eight minutes to the interval Michael Hart was rightly booked for a cynical foul, taking out Craig Conway, his colleague Richard Foster rapidly following him into referee Underhill's book for an equally feisty challenge on Robson. United's Grant Smith made it three bookings in as many minutes for a foul on Miller but in truth, the match was more moody than malevolent.

Such was Aberdeen's appetite that they were out for the second half a full two minutes ahead of their hosts and had introduced a third striker, ex-Dundee favourite Steve Lovell.

In the 53rd minute United had a let off when, from a disputed Chris Clark free kick, headed on by Lovell was carved wide at the far post by the onrushing Gary Dempsey.

An Aberdeen goal threatened to come and it did just over ten minutes into the second half.

Stuart Duff was booked for a foul on Clark wide on the left and, although Dempsey's low free kick was missed by at least two attackers and three defenders, Severin at the far post scraped the ball over the line.

Almost five minutes later and Dundee United were level and again the goal had its origins in a disputed free kick. Chris Clark's challenge saw David Robertson hit the deck and from Robson's inswinging free kick Samuel was first to the ball to head past Langfield without a defensive challenge being mounted.

Things went from bad to worse for Aberdeen when 70 minutes into the match defender Hart was ordered off for his second bookable offence, another foul on his tormentor Conway.

By now things were getting as tasty as a festive lunch with plenty of 'afters' too as two further United names went into the referee's black book.

Dons boss Jimmy Calderwood seemed to reverse his earlier match winning ambitions by shoring up his depleted defence replacing out of sorts striker Miller with flu-hit defender Karim Touzani. The strategy promptly backfired with ten minutes remaining when Langfield inexplicably barged Robertson to the ground inside his six yard box and Robson delighted in burying the spot kick past the hapless keeper.

On the stroke of full-time Langfield was once again picking the ball out of his net but the keeper was blameless this time as Samuel surged into the box to slide the ball home to underline a gutsy United performance and in the end a well deserved three points to finish a difficult year on a high note.