Dundee Utd 1-0 AZ Alkmaar: “A privilege to last in this atmosphere” – Jack Ross

Dundee United made a memorable return to European action by beating AZ in the first leg at TannadiceDundee United
Dundee United made a memorable return to European action by beating AZ in the first leg in Tannadice

A sold out, shuddering Tannadice. A team full of class and enthusiasm. A new manager shaping them in his own way. A stunning finish, fitting for the occasion. A European heavyweight defeated.

Jack Ross allowed himself a little thought after his Dundee United side AZ defeated Alkmaar in the first leg of Europa Conference League third round qualifiers.

Ross, two competitive games in his Tayside career, oversaw a masterful performance in the club’s first European game in 10 years. The job is only half done, but what a postponement it has been.

Tannadice’s lively feverishness and the manner in which Alkmaar were sent home brought back memories of United’s European exploits in the 1980s with tiny football giant Jim McLean at the helm.

“I loved it tonight,” head coach Ross told BBC Scotland. “It was a real privilege to lead the team in this atmosphere.

“The crowd here and the noise they made, especially in the second half, was incredible. Sometimes we don’t stop enough to enjoy things, so I take a break and enjoy.

“There is still a long way to go to what was achieved in the 1980s but tonight was something the club haven’t done in a long time: beating a top European side at home.”

“Middleton Clinic needs a home”

The only goal came from Glenn Middleton, a talented 22-year-old winger who has yet to find his place in the game.

Middleton burst into the Rangers team under Steven Gerrard at 18 but failed to find regular minutes of the game. He spent an unforgettable six months on loan at Hibernian in 2019 and a further five at Bradford City.

He returned to Rangers but only played one game before another loan move in January 2020.

His only Rangers appearance happened to come in the League Cup, preventing him from helping Callum Davidson’s St Johnstone win the trophy. But he played his part in the stunning Scottish Cup triumph and secured the highly unlikely home double.

When Middleton returned to Perth on loan again last season, the side’s form plummeted. Saints needed a relegation play-off to stay in the Premiership.

Finally, after his Rangers contract expired, Middleton has found a home. A permanent deal at Tannadice. An opportunity to claim your spot and showcase your substantial wares on a weekly basis.

The goal that sank Alkmaar was a beauty. Middleton collected the ball on the right, squeezed between two defenders, played a one-two with Jamie McGrath and bent a lush shot from the box into the far corner.

“I said he had the ability to produce those moments and where he’s at in his career he needs a home,” Ross said.

“I’ve worked with him before [at Hibernian] and enjoyed it, and I think he enjoyed that short time as well.

“I’m really glad he got off to a start like that because it helps you with the supporters, it helps you with the confidence.

“We made them feel insecure during that time. They realized we had players who could move the ball and control the game. The ground went up behind the goal and then we defended as a good team.”

Former Dundee United manager Craig Levein has similar hopes for the forward.

“Middleton probably hasn’t reached the potential that everyone thought he had achieved when he joined Rangers,” Levein told BBC Scotland.

“The fact that he is constantly on loan and has no home can sometimes be a difficult situation as a player. But if he gets some really good experiences now that he’s here, which he obviously did tonight, he could settle down.”

“After his goal he was still very positive in his game. He’s got real pace, he’s shown he can be clinical in his degree and his work performance tonight was excellent.”

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