Even if the novelty and, we might even say some of the glory, belonged to Ross County, the triumph of this day was solely that of Dundee United. They lifted the trophy, their first major honour in 16 years, after a performance of calm proficiency. As a team they were poised, but the most acclaimed individuals were also wearing tangerine jerseys, and the scoreline was a reflection of their growing stature.
This was an occasion with the power to empty not only a town in the Highlands but much of an entire area that considers itself marginalised in Scottish football. Dingwall has a population of 5,000, yet Ross County sold 17,000 tickets for Hampden, and such a mass movement of people was anticipated that roadworks in the A9 from Inverness were suspended for the weekend. Even the local Highland League football clubs and shinty teams postponed their fixtures for the day.
There was, too, something hopeful in Donnie MacBean, the County secretary, liaising with Uefa during the week to ensure that the club's Victoria Park stadium would be suitable for Europa League games, which they would play next season if they won.
Ross County's run to the final, which included defeating Hibernian in the quarter-finals and Celtic, whom they outplayed with a comprehensive assuredness, in the semi-finals, has been a stirring confounding of expectations. A First Division side who only left the Highland League in 1994, they are deeply committed to the values of the local community. Had they won, the open-top bus tour of Dingwall was to be held tomorrow rather than today, as the Free Presbyterian Church is a paramount influence.
Dundee United, though, have been redoubtable all season. As the first half progressed, it was United who grew in prominence, with Garry Kenneth and Andy Webster, the centre-backs, alert for any opportunity to deliver long balls over the head of the County full-back Gary Miller and into the path of Craig Conway.
Three times before the interval, Conway created chances from the left. Prince Buaben and Jon Daly headed over from the winger's crosses, while Alex Keddie, the County centre-back, cleared from the six-yard line as David Goodwillie chased Conway's astute through-ball. County's only attempt of the first half was an Andrew Barrowman shot from 18 yards that was blocked at close range.
For all their tenacity, United are capable of ingenuity as well, and their gifted players began to assert themselves. When Sean Dillon sent a hopeful long ball forward from full-back, Michael McGovern, the County goalkeeper, raced out of his penalty area and headed clear, but the ball fell to Goodwillie and the striker shaped a brilliant lob into the empty net.
The goal was liberating, as County were suddenly and terribly subdued, as though confronted with a stark realisation. Fourteen minutes later, Conway set off on a savage run at goal before sliding a shot past McGovern. The game's most adroit figure added a third before the end, converting Morgaro Gomis's cross from close range.
He said: "To score two and win, it's unbelievable. All week we've been built up as favourites and told we'll become legends if we win it, that's a lot of pressure and I thought the lads dealt with that well. We dominated from start to finish."Reuse content