And, from the first minute of Saturday's 1-0 victory over Ross County, it was evident this was a determined squad who felt they had a point to prove.
"Maybe I did poke them in the right place, I don't know," said Paatelainen.
"We just concentrated on what we had to do on the pitch today."
The drive of John Rankin and Scott Fraser in midfield was matched by the strength at the back from Ryan McGowan and Sean Dillon as United claimed their first league victory since the second week of the Scottish Premiership season.
"We knew Ross County would give us a really good test and we more than matched that," said Paatelainen. "I thought the boys were aggressive, we were ready for the second balls and the longer balls Ross County play so well.
"Their strikers' movement was nullified quite well."
The win, courtesy of Billy Mckay's late penalty, also led to a much happier dressing room at full-time.
The challenge now for the Finn and his players is to ensure the performance was not a one-off, with away League Cup and league fixtures against Hibernian and Aberdeen respectively beckoning this week.
"The dressing room was bouncing," he said. "Everybody was full of joy and relieved - and quite rightly so. The boys put a lot of effort in today.
"Let's not get carried away. We got a win here, now we want to carry on.
"We have a very tricky cup tie at Easter Road. They're full of confidence and riding high. It doesn't get any easier."
County boss Jim McIntyre said there was little quality in the game and his team struggled to find the killer pass as they failed to break down the United defence.
"I didn't think there was much between the teams," he told BBC Scotland.
"I don't think there was great quality from either side and it always looked like one goal was going to win it.
"From our point of view, we got into some great areas and we were wasteful with that final pass."