My annual January financial drought, combined with a trip to Belfast, resulted in fewer opportunities to see Dundee over the last fortnight or so. However, from what I’ve seen in the highlights and in our 0-0 draw with Kilmarnock it looks like we’re finally gelling and beginning to find our groove this season.
I’m not letting the 5-1 victory against Morton go to my head; I’m delighted that we won by such a convincing margin against the team in pole position to replace us in the SPL next season, but “banana skin” cup ties often produce lop-sided results like this. It also doesn’t erase the fact that we’ve only scored 8 goals at home all season outside of Cup games, or that our goals have come from a number of different players.
While this “quality” is often seen as a strength for a top team, for Dundee it betrays what has been a toothless front line- with a Leigh Griffiths or Niall McGinn –type striker leading the line, we may not be 14 points adrift. It’s true that both Nish and Baird contribute in other ways (Nish’s cushioned header to set up McAlister for the first goal on Saturday being just one example), but any Dundee fan who considers 5 league goals from our four recognised strikers in 24 games a decent return is deluded. We’re apparently still in the market for an unattached striker, so hope does remain.
Other than our continuing troubles up front, things are picking up on the pitch. We appear to have finally found a back four capable of stemming the flood of goals we’ve conceded this year, due in no small part to the presence of the reliable Brian Easton at left back, whose marauding runs up the wing have also added an attacking threat we’ve missed this season. He’s also brought yet more height to our back four, which has been transformed this season to Amazonian levels, helping to mitigate our calamitous record with opposition set-pieces.
Jim McAlister continues to make a solid contribution to our midfield, and Iain Davidson is beginning to reduce the number of rash tackles made in dangerous areas without affecting the protection he gives to our back four. Nicky Riley’s recent injury-free run has also bolstered the supply to our front men, and although we couldn’t get on the scoresheet against Killie, he gave their defence no end of grief after coming on as a substitute. The return of midfielder Gary Harkins, our mercurial Captain during the 2010-11 season that saw administration once more darken Dundee’s door, gave a huge fillip to the morale of the fans, and will hopefully add the creative spark and industry in the centre of the park that we desperately need.
Admittedly, this development is all probably too little, too late. Rotten luck with injuries, a thin squad and little in the way of preparation time for top-flight football set the team back several months, and apart from a small burst of points in November we’ve not kept pace with the likes of St Mirren and Ross County. Realistically, we’d need 20 points from our final nine games before the split and for one of the teams above us to go on a barren run to close the gap significantly.
An optimistic fan could reach this total by giving us five home wins (against St.Mirren, County, Motherwell, ICT and St.Johnstone), a win in the derby at Tannadice, draws away to Aberdeen and Kilmarnock and a loss at Celtic Park, but it would take some performances to run the table like that, particularly given our poor home form and goalscoring record to date. The lure of a Cup run (particularly given the juicy home tie against United) might also act as a distraction, though St Mirren’s run to the League Cup Final and continuing presence in the Scottish Cup may help cancel out that effect.
Despite my pessimistic assessment of our chances of survival, I’m looking forward to rushing out of work on Friday to catch the train up to Dundee for the Ross County game. The fightback starts here….perhaps.