Willie McStay’s men certainly did that after an epic 210 minute struggle ended on penalties but the bitter aftertaste of defeat was sickeningly familiar.
The feeling they had let themselves down in last season’s the Scottish Cup final had still been raw but, once the dust settled, there will be pride at a courageous performance.
Both sides missed penalties, with David Roberston seeing United’s first saved by Michael McGovern and Iain Vigurs also missing with County’s third. However, David Goodwillie held his nerve for United’s final spot-kick and Scott Morrison’s last for County struck Stevie Banks’ knees.
No team have done more to wound the Dingwall side than United in the last few years with a run of five cup beatings finally broken by the draw at Tannadice 10 days ago. The most savage twist of the knife, of course, came last May when County’s heroics against Hibernian and Celtic unravelled at Hampden Park. The Highlanders’ only triumph came back in 1998.
As if the fates were playing tricks, this year’s Co-operative Insurance Cup drew the sides together with United again victorious. But even amidst this unsatisfactory season for the first division side there was a warning for United after County beat St Mirren in the Co-operative Insurance Cup. There was also County’s replay defeat of Hibernian to debunk the myth that top flight sides always prevail with a second bite of the cherry.
United were not without their own distractions. Goodwillie started despite being charged with rape, and goalkeeper Dusan Pernis had to be replaced in the starting line-up by Banks after suffering a thigh injury.
County started the livelier with Martin Scott managing an early dig at goal and, two minutes later, the home hunger became evident. A through ball into the left side of the United box by Scott had Mark Corcoran tearing after Sean Dillon before winning the challenge tenaciously. Corcoran was quickly back on his feet and whipped in a cross but could not find Andy Barrowman.
United retaliated with the heavily-booed Goodwillie wriggling free to cut in a low, angled shot which McGovern smothered. Johnny Russell also surged clear on the United left, powering in a dangerous low cross with no takers to trouble the County goalkeeper.
United, when they did win the ball, immediately looked a danger, but achieving possession was proving problematic. Their cause was not helped when Barry Douglas had to replace Paul Dixon after only 27 minutes.
There was furore in the County penalty box on the half hour as an attempted Goodwillie overhead kick from a corner caught home defender Jason Marr square in the face. Referee Willie Collum kept his cards in pocket, though, while Marr was replaced by Gary Miller soon after.
United enjoyed a strong spell of pressure before the break, but Barrowman’s burst on the counter might have paid off had he spotted a fine supporting run by Corcoran but instead his shot was wide. Another terrific counter by the hosts saw Steven Craig brought down by Margaro Gomis just outside the box, with the United midfielder booked.
Straight from the re-start, County forced two corners with Gary Kenneth forced to head from under his own bar and over. That set the tone for the second half and County began to dominate. Barrowman’s eight-yard header from a Richard Brittain corner was goal-bound but struck his own man Craig right on the goal line. Scott then sent Barrowman clean through on Banks but he struck the goalkeeper’s legs at an angle.
County, though, failed to capitalise and United brought on Craig Conway, who scored twice in the final, in a bid to turn the game. The change did not have the desired effect and County continued to pile on the pressure, with Brittain’s thundering strike being tipped on to the bar by Banks.
There would be no breakthrough until the penalties, though, when eventually United won through