Match ends, Dundee United 1, AZ 0.
Dundee United produced a fabulous display to sink AZ Alkmaar in the first leg of their Europa Conference League third-round qualifier.
Glenn Middleton delightfully curled in the only goal with 61 minutes played to give United a slender lead to protect in the Netherlands next Thursday.
Jack Ross' men impressed at both ends against high-calibre opponents, conceding few clear-cut chances.
Alkmaar came closest to netting when Vangelis Pavlidis was denied late on.
But their opportunities were limited by a home unit that defended with intelligence and calmness, a feat that must be matched when the sides meet for the second leg at AFAS Stadion.
The winner faces Riga FC of Latvia or Portuguese outfit Gil Vicente. Their tie is delicately poised at 1-1 after the opener in Latvia.
Tannadice has not known such European splendour for an age, but this was a night that conjured the spirit of the late, great Jim McLean and the extraordinary conquests of his storied United teams.
The old stadium was a seething mass of orange, barely a seat to be had, and it rocked and juddered as United found their rhythm.
It took them a little while to settle, mind you. Mark Birighitti, their new Australia goalkeeper, twice coughed up possession with loose passes to his full-backs, but AZ Alkmaar were unable to seize upon his slackness.
By that point, United were hitting their straps. Ross' teams are always smartly set up but they began to thread their way through the Alkmaar ranks with neat interplay, Tony Watt bustling down the left and Steven Fletcher, at 35, spearheading the attack with brawn and subtlety.
They fashioned the first effort on target when Craig Sibbald, an astute pick-up from Livingston, danced free on the left angle of the box and lashed a left-foot drive that Hobie Verhulst beat clear.
At the other end, Birighitti smothered from Milos Kerkez and saved comfortably when Mayckel Lahdo angled a header towards goal as the interval loomed.
Four minutes into the new half, Fletcher whirled to meet a dropping ball 10 yards out, but skewed his half-volley wide. The best chance so far.
Alkmaar's primary threat continued to emerge down the flanks. Pavlidis fired a vicious effort across the face from the right, aided by an unseen touch from the flying Birighitti. Kerkez drew another decent stop from the United keeper.
But on the hour, rocking a little from the Alkmaar flurry, the hosts gathered themselves and landed a haymaker.
Middleton collected possession on the right, weaved between two defenders and found Jamie McGrath. The debutant, off the bench a matter of minutes, deftly reversed it back to Middleton.
The winger hoovered up the return ball, shimmied on to his left foot and bent a gorgeous, swerving shot beyond Verhulst from just inside the area. The tangerine sea became a tsunami of euphoric limbs.
There were nervy moments in the final throes, but not many of them. Alkmaar players scurried in behind without the quality to seriously stress the home rearguard.
Bruno Martins Indi let fly after Middleton hacked down Milos Kerkez on the left. Ryan Edwards, rising like a colossus, got his head to the fizzing shot. Birighitti leapt to his left to palm away another Pavlidis piledriver in the last minutes of normal time.
A crucial stop from Birighitti. A towering header from Edwards. A serious scalp for Dundee United. The job is only half done, but on tonight's evidence, this invigorated club can dare to dream.
Man of the match - Tony Watt
A dizzying opportunity beckons
This was a hugely compelling European performance from Dundee United in only their second competitive outing of the season.
In the blink of an eye, Ross has taken the foundations laid by Tam Courts and built upon them with canny additions, recruits who have breathed new life into the squad.
The tactical discipline and positional diligence typically evident in Ross teams were there in abundance, but so too was ambition, intricate football, and attacking menace.
Dylan Levitt, back from Manchester United after a fine loan spell, looked sharp. Fletcher and Watt were a mighty handful. Barring the odd Birighitti distribution episode, United were largely unflustered at the back. Edwards and Charlie Mulgrew ruled the Dundonian skies.
What they needed, though, was ruthlessness. A sight of goal, an opportunity grasped. Something to defend and cling to next week when the screws are turned and the pressure mounts.
Middleton delivered that clinical touch. A tantalising, dizzying opportunity beckons.
What they said
Dundee United captain Charlie Mulgrew: "Listen, they're a good side and we knew it was going to be difficult at times - but we stuck at it and we got the goal.
"We're thankful for the fans coming out to support us tonight they gave us that extra lift and we are thankful for that but it's only half-time. It'll be a completely different leg away from home."
Dundee United host Livingston in their second Premiership match of the season on Sunday (15:00 BST) before facing AZ in next Thursday's second leg in Alkmaar. (20:00).
- 12EdwardsBooked at 90mins
- 14SibbaldBooked at 50minsSubstituted forMcGrathat 59'minutes
- 15MiddletonBooked at 76minsSubstituted forNiskanenat 79'minutes
- 9FletcherBooked at 32minsSubstituted forClarkat 90+1'minutes
- 28Anim Cudjoe
- 3HatzidiakosBooked at 24mins
- 31BeukemaBooked at 59mins
- 4Martins Indi
- 10de Wit
- 23LahdoSubstituted forvan Brederodeat 71'minutes
- 32de Jong
- 33van Brederode
- 34de Wit
- Vitor Jorge Fernandes Ferreira
- Shots on Target
Second Half ends, Dundee United 1, AZ 0.
Attempt missed. Jordy Clasie (AZ) right footed shot from outside the box misses to the left following a set piece situation.
Ryan Edwards (Dundee United) is shown the yellow card for a bad foul.
Vangelis Pavlidis (AZ) wins a free kick in the attacking half.
Foul by Ryan Edwards (Dundee United).
Substitution, Dundee United. Nicky Clark replaces Steven Fletcher.
Offside, AZ. Dani de Wit tries a through ball, but Vangelis Pavlidis is caught offside.
Milos Kerkez (AZ) wins a free kick on the left wing.
Foul by Tony Watt (Dundee United).
Corner, AZ. Conceded by Ilmari Niskanen.
Attempt missed. Vangelis Pavlidis (AZ) right footed shot from a difficult angle on the right misses to the left. Assisted by Pantelis Hatzidiakos.
Attempt saved. Vangelis Pavlidis (AZ) right footed shot from outside the box is saved in the bottom right corner. Assisted by Håkon Evjen.
Hand ball by Jamie McGrath (Dundee United).
Attempt missed. Charlie Mulgrew (Dundee United) left footed shot from outside the box is close, but misses to the right following a corner.
Corner, Dundee United. Conceded by Jordy Clasie.
Corner, Dundee United. Conceded by Milos Kerkez.
Substitution, Dundee United. Ilmari Niskanen replaces Glenn Middleton.
Attempt missed. Tijjani Reijnders (AZ) right footed shot from outside the box misses to the right. Assisted by Milos Kerkez.
Corner, AZ. Conceded by Ryan Edwards.