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Danny Stewart: More nights like Alkmaar has to be the Tangerine dream in Dundee United’s anniversary year

© Mark Scates / SNS GroupDundee United fans gather outside the ground before the win over AZ Alkmaar
Dundee United fans gather outside the ground before the win over AZ Alkmaar

It is now almost 40 years since Dundee United won Scotland’s top flight.

The 1982-83 triumph – think here of the iconic image of Jim McLean being held aloft by Richard Gough and Co – was the highlight of the golden era in the club’s history.

This halcyon period also included appearances in the 1987 UEFA Cup Final and, three years earlier, the European Cup semi-finals.

Times change, and for most of the current generation of Tangerines fans, talk of historic wins against the likes of Roma, Barcelona and Borussia Monchengladbach sounds like fantasy football.

Like Aberdeen’s win over Real Madrid in the 1983 European Cup-Winners’ Cup Final – another famous old event tip-toeing its way towards its 40th anniversary – such results are hard to process in relation to the modern game.

Yet as much as they might not possess the frame of reference, today’s supporters of the Taysiders did a fantastic job of replicating the spirit of the 1980s for AZ Alkmaar’s visit.

Tannadice was sold out, a sight all the better for being an unaccustomed one.

It was a fermentation, initially of anticipation for what was to come, and then celebration for what they had just witnessed.

Jack Ross’s playful comment that he should just quit right there summed up the giddy mood of the night.

Jack Ross: Leading Dundee United to famous victory over AZ was a privilege

Though comparatively new in the door as manager at Tannadice, he is an experienced head coach, who knows well there will be days and nights when everything goes wrong.

As stunning as their victory over their Dutch visitors was, it does not even guarantee progression through their qualifying tie.

AZ will view Thursday’s return as the perfect opportunity to make amends for a serious disappointment, in the same way as Rangers will see their second go at Union Saint-Gilloise at Ibrox as alive with possibility.

At the same time, though, United’s 1-0 lead gives them something tangible to protect, and the memory of how they achieved it will act as a source of confidence they can see the job out.

There was lots to like about the first-leg victory.

The winning goal was a belter, one for posterity. The run and finish from Glenn Middleton, following a lovely wee reverse pass from Jamie McGrath, who had barely had time to brush the dust off after arriving from Wigan on loan.

McGrath and Dylan Levitt – a player on a mission to earn himself game time at the World Cup Finals with Wales in Qatar – are two quality midfielders, who have already proven themselves in the Premiership.

The recruitment of former Scotland striker, Steven Fletcher, raised a few eyebrows. At 35, it was felt his best days might be behind him.

Against Alkmaar, however, the logic of the signing was clear for all to see. The veteran forward is dominant in the air, and able to hold the ball up well.

He has the perfect game to link with young, dynamic, forward-thinking midfielders.

Which is exactly what Ross has at his disposal with Levitt, McGrath and Craig Sibbald, another summer signing.

As well as the individual qualities the new signings bring to the party, their collective recruitment is cause for optimism among supporters, many of whom will have felt unease at the departure of Tam Courts.

Initially targeted by Croatian club, Rijeka, the Scot left anyway by mutual consent when that move collapsed, reappearing soon after in Hungarian football as the new boss of Honved.

Ross, who was recruited quickly, is being clearly being given financial backing.

What the club now need to work out is how to keep as many of the fans that turned up at Tannadice last week coming back on a regular basis.

Achieve that, and the triumph of 1983 will have a 40th anniversary celebration worthy of the name.