IAN McCALL was left flabbergasted in the wake of his side’s Scottish Cup exit after the referee failed to spot an alleged “punch” on one of his players.

Scott Tiffoney had given the Jags the lead at Tannadice and the visitors were looking the more likely side to progress to the next round before first Lawrence Shankland and then Nicky Clark capitalised on some slack defending from Mouhamed ‘Sena’ Niang to seal the win, although the United striker appeared to shove the defender at a crucial moment for the winning goal.

But McCall reckons the game could have been oh-so-different, had the referee spotted and subsequently dismissed Ryan Edwards for “hooking” Thistle striker Brian Graham in the second half.

“The big centre-back – I don’t even know his name – there’s no place for that,” said the Jags manager. “Punching someone on a pitch. He should have been off at 1-0. It was like an amateur game – someone just hooking someone. It was bizarre.

“It’s a proper punch – you’ll see it. It’s the sort of thing you’d see in Junior or amateur football. He just punched him. I’ve never seen anything like it.

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“I’ve been doing this a very long time and I’ve rarely seen anything like that. This is a Premiership club, you know? I think about David Narey and Paul Hegarty and boys like that, but anyway.”

He continued: “I’ve just seen the footage of the winning goal. Listen, I want to win and I’m pleased we didn’t have extra-time but Nicky Clark’s just pushed our guy. It’s a stonewall foul.

“I just took Sena for a wee walk there and had a chat with him. He was very, very emotional.

“The first goal is just a wee bit of daftness. He’s learning, he’s been great for us and he’ll keep getting better. When I spoke to him there were tears from the young boy – he knows he can do better because he could have just kicked it up the field. But it’s as clear a foul as you’ll see [for the second].”

The game was open from the get-go, and it became clear within minutes that the Jags weren’t here simply to make up the numbers. Sporting a retro navy-blue kit to mark the 100-year anniversary of the Mayhill club’s sole Scottish Cup triumph, the visitors played with an attacking swagger that belied the 18 places in the league standings that separated the two teams.

Tiffoney was in fine form once again and making a real nuisance of himself down the left, Shea Gordon's late runs into the box were causing problems while Graham worked tirelessly in attack as he relentlessly pressed the United backline. Stuart Bannigan, as usual, was seemingly everywhere.

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Thistle were in the ascendancy as the half wore on, giving virtually nothing away at the back while half-chances arrived periodically. They were perhaps unfortunate not to be awarded a spot-kick after Gordon took a tumble in the area after prodding the ball past Deniz Mehmet as the pressure built. The hosts looked uncomfortable defending set-pieces throughout the contest and when right-back Ciaran McKenna launched a long throw into the area, chaos ensued.

The ball was flicked on at the near post as the statuesque home defence watched on in horror. It took a fortuitous nick off of Graham and fell invitingly into the path of Tiffoney, who could hardly miss as he nodded the ball in from close range.

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The goal provided Thistle with a timely confidence boost, with evidence that this could really be their day after all. The Terrors toiled in the final third, struggling to create any chances of note, and could consider themselves lucky to go in just one behind at the break – particularly after Graham’s lunging leg failed to poke the ball into an unguarded net, and Gordon scooped a half-volley high and wide of the target in the space of two frenetic minutes.

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Micky Mellon clearly had a word with his players at the interval, and United came flying out of the blocks for the second half, subjecting the Jags defence to wave after wave of attack. Shankland looked certain to restore parity after finding some space in the area, only for Kieran Wright’s outstretched leg to deny the Scotland internationalist.

The United players were howling for a penalty soon afterwards as the away defence struggled to clear the initial delivery from a corner and in the resulting chaos, Marc McNulty prodded the ball goalwards, only to be denied by Bannigan on the line. The home players insisted he handled it to keep it out but the referee felt differently, allowing play to progress despite their desperate cries.

United turned the screw but to no avail. By the hour mark, their relentless attacks had subsided as the game became more nick-and-tuck. Sena was excellent at the back, providing a calm presence on the ball in the face of heavy pressure while Bannigan’s frantic, anxious shrieks kept the Jags organised in the middle.

With 15 minutes to go, though, the momentum shifted. There was an off-the-ball coming together between Graham and Edwards that resulted in the striker dropping to the floor in pain, sparking a furious reaction from the away dugout. McCall, Alan Archibald, Neil Scally and Kenny Arthur weren’t exactly shy about letting their feelings be known, with Arthur’s exertions rewarded with a booking.

With time running out, Shankland then made the most of a lapse at the back from the visitors. Adrien Sporle’s cross was left by Sena as the youngster momentarily lost his balance and dawdled on the ball, and the United striker reacted quickly to nip in and roll the ball past the helpless Wright to level the scores.

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The tie looked destined for extra-time before Clark provided a late sting in the tale. A hopeful-looking punt was launched from the United midfield in stoppage time, bounced awkwardly in between the last man and the goalkeeper and as Sena and Wright collided – facilitated in no small part by the nudge provided by the United man – Clark found himself with the ball at his feet and an empty net to gleefully roll the ball into.

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“The important thing is we got there in the end,” said Dundee United manager Mellon. “We obviously as a coaching staff want to see the team playing as well as they possibly can.

“There’s a lot of stuff that we want to improve but we showed in little spells that we’re getting back to what we’re trying to do as a team.

“We lost our way a bit in the first half but in the second we came out and for about 25 minutes, we didn’t get our reward for getting back on track.

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“But we never lost our composure. We kept going at it, kept battling away because we’re the team that were expected to go through. Teams that don’t show a togetherness maybe would have lost their way there. But to be in the hat for the next round is the most important thing.”