DUNDEE UNITED were back in Europe for the first time in a decade last night as they faced off against Dutch heavyweights AZ Alkmaar.

Jack Ross’ side entered the Uefa Europa Conference League at the third-round qualifying stage after the Terrors finished in fourth place in the Scottish Premiership last term.

European fever hit the City of Discovery and fans flocked in their thousands to sell out Tannadice for the fixture and the capacity crowd were treated to an impressive showing from their team that resulted in a one-goal advantage heading into next week’s return leg.

New signing Glenn Middleton was the hero as he finished off a stunning solo run to split the teams and as a result, United now have a real chance of securing a spot in the play-off round in Holland next week.

It took the hosts a while to settle into the game in the early stages and goalkeeper Mark Birighitti was almost left red-faced after just eight minutes.

The Aussie’s poor clearance landed straight at the feet of winger Hakon Evjen before he controlled and crossed low into the penalty area.

Midfielder Dani de Wit and striker Vangelis Pavlidis both did well to get into the box to support their teammate, but a miscommunication meant they got in each other’s way.

As the first half wore on United grew into the game and a new-look front three of Middleton, Steven Fletcher and Tony Watt were starting to find a rhythm.

Midfielders Ian Harkes and Dylan Levitt also looked good in possession and their teammate Craig Sibbald had the first real chance for the home side on 20 minutes.

Watt’s overhit cross for Fletcher floated to the back post before landing at the feet of Sibbald on the edge of the box. The former Falkirk and Livingston man took a touch to find space before firing a strike that forced Hobie Verhulst into a smart save.

The chance roared the Tannadice crowd into action and appeared to give the home side a boost of confidence.

United looked a threat on the counter but they failed to create any clearcut chances before the first half was out. AZ winger Mayckel Lahdo had a header saved on 36 minutes, but in truth it  did not test Birighitti and summed up the opening 45 minutes.

Ross’ team started brightest in the second period and the experienced Fletcher almost found the net just two minutes in. The one-time Scotland international mistimed a header from a Liam Smith cross, but he did connect with the rebound, scuffing his shot wide of the target.

The visitors then went close through the bright de Wit, but he could not angle his prodded effort towards goal from an Evjen cross from the left.

Striker Pavlidis also had Birighitti worried when he fired a low strike just wide of target towards the shed end.

New Tannadice signing Jamie McGrath was then introduced from the bench on the hour mark and he made an instant impact as Middleton opened the scoring in style.

The former Rangers and St Johnstone man left two AZ defenders for dead on the right flank before feeding McGrath on the edge of the box.

The on-loan Wigan man backheeled back into the path of Middleton and he bent a stunning finish into the far-left top corner.

It was a real piece of quality from Middleton and a fitting way to open his account for his new side, after signing a three-year contract following his release from Rangers.

After going ahead, United settled well and controlled large parts of the remaining half hour. Charlie Mulgrew was a rock at the back and he was also a threat at the other end.

His curling effort from the edge of the box following a corner, was his best effort of the evening.

Dundee United were deserving of their lead and managed to hold on to their slim margin despite late pressure from their Dutch opponents.

Target man Pavlidis was causing problems and in the dying stages, Birighitti had to look smart on two occasions to deny the Greek frontman a European goal.

It will be a tough second leg for United in Holland, but they have given themselves a chance and an advantage to hold on to.