Dundee United made a memorable return to European action with first-leg victory over AZ at Tannadice

A sold-out, shuddering Tannadice. A team oozing class and gusto. A new manager shaping them his way. A jaw-dropping finish fit for the occasion. A European heavyweight vanquished.

Jack Ross allowed himself a sliver of reflection after his Dundee United team felled AZ Alkmaar in the first leg of their Europa Conference League third-round qualifier.


Ross, two competitive games into his Tayside career, oversaw a masterful performance in the club’s first European fixture in 10 years. The job is only half done, but what a shift it was.

The vibrant febrility of Tannadice and the way Alkmaar were sent packing summoned memories of United’s European heroics of the 1980s, with diminutive footballing giant Jim McLean at the helm.

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

“The crowd here and the noise they generated, particularly in that second half, was incredible. Sometimes we don’t pause enough to enjoy things so I’ll pause and enjoy this.

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

‘Clinical Middleton needs a home’

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

Middleton burst into the Rangers team at 18 under Steven Gerrard, but found regular minutes hard to come by. He spent a forgettable six months on loan at Hibernian in 2019, and another five at Bradford City.

He went back to Rangers, but played only one game before another loan move was in the offing come January 2020.

His solitary Rangers appearance happened to come in the League Cup, preventing him from helping Callum Davidson’s St Johnstone to the trophy. But he did play his part in the astonishing Scottish Cup triumph to secure the most improbable domestic double.

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

At last, with his Rangers contract expired, Middleton has found a home. A permanent deal at Tannadice. An opportunity to stake his claim to a starting berth and showcase his considerable wares on a weekly basis.

The goal that sunk Alkmaar was a thing of beauty. Middleton gathered possession wide on the right, nipped between two defenders, played a one-two with Jamie McGrath, and bent a sumptuous effort into the far corner from just inside the box.

“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 previously [at Hibernian] and enjoyed that and I think he enjoyed that short period too.

“I’m really pleased he got off to that type of start because it helps you with supporters, it helps you with self confidence.

“We rattled them in that period. They realised we had players who can move the ball and control the game. On the back of the goal the whole ground went up and we then defended as a good team.”

Craig Levein, the former Dundee United manager, has similarly high hopes for the attacker.

“Middleton probably hasn’t reached the potential everyone thought he would have done when he came up to Rangers,” Levein told BBC Scotland.

“The fact he’s constantly been going on loan and not having a home, as players sometimes that can be a difficult situation. But if he has some really good experiences now that he’s here, which he has obviously done tonight, he could get settled.

“After his goal he was very positive still in his play. He has real pace, he showed he can be clinical in his finishing, and his workrate was excellent tonight.”