The desolation around Dens Park on Sunday afternoon was palpable. 1-0 up against a 10-man Aberdeen side that had only threatened our defence once before, Peter Pawlett did his best Tom Daley impression to “earn” a penalty that McGinn despatched with panache before making one of the most classless and needlessly inflammatory celebrations I’ve seen in a game.
With that equaliser, and despite the best (or should that be worst?) efforts of St.Mirren to keep the relegation battle alive, Dundee’s brave and at times miraculous fight against the drop came to an anti-climactic end.
Of course, we should never have been in this position; we should, by all rights, have been confirmed as a Division 1 team a month or two ago. However, a combination of our “Bomber bounce” and the Paisley outfit’s post-League Cup slump gave Dundee fans that most torturous glimmer of faint hope; as the weeks went on and the gap narrowed further, and that hope grew, it was inevitable that when the bubble burst it would be harder to take than if we’d been relegated in March.
It’s also important to point out that it wasn’t Pawlett’s dive, or Gardyne’s late equaliser, or any individual “injustice” or lapse of concentration that relegated our side; it was the result of not stepping up to the plate soon enough, and of the self-imposed handicap caused by our barren run for the first half of the season.
Had we played with as much heart, steel and cohesion for the whole season as we have for the last few weeks, or had a natural goal-scorer in the squad to complement Baird’s work rate up front, then the league table would look very different. We have to look at the whole picture, and not blame individual incidents- after all, over the course of a season, all clubs have to take the rough with the smooth.
Next season will be a big test for the players, the fans and the manager. For the players, of whom over 20 are out of contract in the summer, the final two games of the season will be the final chance to impress Bomber and the Board and to earn a new contract. The experience young lads like Benedictus and Gallagher have had in the SPL will definitely be key if we’re to bounce right back into the top-tier, and the inevitable cloth-cutting in the close season means that keeping these future prospects must be paramount.
Personally, I wouldn’t offer new contracts to McGregor, Milne, Grassi, Mark Kerr, Stewart or Cowan, none of whom have made a huge impact; it would probably make financial sense to keep two of Finnigan, Baird and Barrowman at most, and to recall Boyle from loan to add some youthful zip to our strike force. Although I’ve not always been enamoured with McBride and Davidson in centre midfield, they’ll be a solid pairing in Division One, and if McCluskey can recover fully from injury we’ll be spoiled for choice on the wings. I’d also keep Irvine for the same reasons as McBride/Davidson and make Lockwood’s move to sweeper permanent, with some coaching role tied in to any contract.
The absolute must-keeps for Dundee have to be McAllister, Easton, Conroy, Benedictus, and Simonsen. It sadly seems as if Rab Douglas’ days at Dundee are over, but Simonsen has been a more than capable replacement, with his experience showing. If we can keep a hold of him, we’ll easily have the best goalie in Division 1, with a solid defensive line that could potentially remain at Dens for years to come. The other four, along with Harkins who has another year on his contract, have been stand-out performers for Dundee this year, and will undoubtedly be attracting the attention of other clubs. While we will have to cut costs, I think that saying goodbye to the half-dozen or so players mentioned before (as well as the end of Nish’s loan arrangement) will hopefully suffice.
Of course, another factor that will control our squad size will be the fans. Our average attendance in Division One last season was 4,224; this season, it has been 6,039, the 6th highest in the SPL. If we assume 18 home games a season, then that means approximately 32,000 fewer attendees over the course of a year; with prices at £20/£10, and season ticket prices structured accordingly, that means (if we crudely divide fans into three adults for every one concession) that works out at roughly a £560,000 difference in gate receipts between Division One and the SPL.
Of course, this is just a very, very rough sketch, but it does demonstrate just how much of a difference could be made to the club’s finances if we managed to draw in even 5,000 instead of 4200 on average next season. Given our club’s determination to play within its means following two traumatic periods of administration, fans should be under no illusion as to how much their continued support means not only emotionally but financially.
The biggest test of all will be faced by Bomber Brown. With a reduced budget, reduced squad and increased pressure/expectation, next season will be very different to this season, when nobody (myself included) expected any good to come of his appointment. Now that Bomber has managed to gel our squad together, it’ll be incumbent upon him to keep up the pace and to establish Dundee as a team gunning for the title early doors.
While he has built up a lot of goodwill since his appointment with the fans, we can still be a very fickle bunch, and finishing outwith the top three next season would surely be seen as a disappointment by all, particularly if we’re able to keep our most talented players. The shift in expectations from Bomber may ironically prove to be his downfall.
As for me, next season will mean plenty of away games to Livingston, Cowdenbeath, Kirkcaldy, Falkirk and potentially Dunfermline in addition to making the fortnightly trip up to Dens next season. As the Derry sang loud and clear as the final whistle drew near on Sunday, “we’ll support you ever more”.