Dundee United 1-0 Motherwell
Perseverance rewarded Dundee United as Mario Bilate struck the winning goal against Motherwell at Tannadice.
The striker came off the bench in the second half to provide the decisive touch against Motherwell.
The home side had looked sharper and more threatening, but Motherwell had refused to buckle.
It took a fierce shot to quell the visitors, and establish United's ambitions to build on last season's progress.
Both teams needed a summer of renewal, although it was United who seemed less diminished by the loss of their key players.
Ryan Gauld and Andrew Robertson took their extensive potential to new clubs but United brought in reinforcements and emphasised that a team can still compete despite losing promising individuals by defeating Aberdeen 3-0 on the opening day.
Motherwell lost significant talents during the summer too in Shaun Hutchinson and James McFadden.
Rebuilding has become an annual obligation at Fir Park, often on a reduced budget, but no manager seems better able to shape, motivate and renew his team as effectively as Stuart McCall.
For three seasons in a row, Motherwell have finished in the top three. United aspire to that kind of sustained accomplishment, but reached the Scottish Cup final last term and looked to be developing purposefully under Jackie McNamara.
The challenge for all the teams that gathered just behind Celtic in the last campaign was to not just keep striving to be the best of the rest but to apply greater pressure to the defending champions.
The meeting of United and Well provided an early indication of which club might be more capable of that ambition.
A clash of styles ensued, too, since Motherwell - depleted by injuries also - sought to be dogged and resourceful.
United can be devastating on the counter-attack and the visitors' intention was clearly to protect themselves. They were not inhibited, and forced a series of early corners, one of which led to Josh Law steering a shot over Radoslaw Cierzniak and onto the face of the bar.
Motherwell applied themselves vigorously to their game plan, even if United were able to be more slick and inventive when they surged upfield, always looking to make use of their wide attackers.
Nadir Ciftci and John Rankin both managed shots on target in the opening half, although neither was strong or accurate enough to trouble Motherwell goalkeeper Dan Twardzik.
The sense was of United holding the edge, since the creative trio of Stuart Armstrong, Ryan Dow and Gay Mackay-Steven - all feints, flicks, dribbling skill and devilment - could provide a decisive touch at any moment.
Motherwell were less adventurous, but also less flighty, although there was an air of desperation as three defenders slid to block Ciftci's shot inside the penalty area just after the interval.
Stephen McManus had to move briskly to clear a Conor Townsend cross, and Paul Paton shot over from close range after Mackay-Steven had centred. The openness of the game suited the home side, who sought to be irrepressible, but their efforts looked like being forlorn.
United held an advantage, though, in having a strong squad. McNamara brought on summer signing Bilate and the striker eventually lashed a shot beyond Twardzik from around 25 yards.
It was a stinging shot, and enough to shatter Motherwell's resolve.
The visitors almost equalised in time added on, when Craig Reid's shot from inside the area was deflected just wide.
In the end, the moment belonged to United, but they were unbeaten against Motherwell last season, winning three of their four meetings, but still finished behind McCall's side in the league.
Accomplishment needs to be maintained once its established.
- 12WatsonSubstituted forBilateat 65'minutes
- 7CiftciSubstituted forTelferat 86'minutes
- 10ArmstrongBooked at 50mins
- 11Mackay-StevenSubstituted forErskineat 86'minutes
- 17Francis-AngolSubstituted forFergusonat 45'minutesBooked at 48mins
- 21LeitchBooked at 29minsSubstituted forAinsworthat 86'minutes
- 9SuttonSubstituted forMcHughat 85'minutes
- Kevin Clancy
- Shots on Target