Dundee fans are far happier this Monday morning than they were last Monday. As we entered February, Dundee dropped two points against Alloa in what was an absolutely turgid performance; we were replaced at the top of the league by Falkirk, and memories of the season where we were pipped at the post by a resurgent Inverness Caledonian Thistle were flooding back. Although fans were clamouring for Bomber Brown to be sent packing, few fans thought that the Board would actually take action, given our newfound focus on long-term planning and stability.
This Monday, however, every Dark Blue has a spring in their step. The sudden, but not unexpected or unwelcome, departure of John Brown from the Dens Park hotseat last week brought an immediate rush of relief and excitement to Dundee fans. It was accompanied by a near-uniform call for the highly-rated (and, more importantly, highly available) Paul Hartley to be given the chance to lead Dundee back to the Premiership. His appointment- the first manager to have not played for Dundee at some point in his career since Iain Munro over 20 years ago- was given a universal seal of approval by fans who had been impressed with the former Scotland international’s record at Alloa and the concurrent purring by the media over his coaching techniques and scientific approach to training. Although it leans on the managers’ stereotypes a little too much, the contrast drawn by the media between Brown’s old school leanings and Hartley’s modern outlook was both startling and enticing for Dens Park spectators who had been condemned to watching the worst variety of route one football for most of this season.
Although I wasn’t able to attend the game against Hamilton, over 5,000 fans- an increase of 1,000 in just one week- took in what was by all accounts a sparkling performance from Dundee. Martin Boyle took home the man of the match award, having scored one goal, caused two red cards and disposed of three left-backs in the space of 90 minutes, a rap sheet all the more striking given that his goal was his first for the club this season. Although Dundee only scored once, the difference in performance was apparently night and day with last week- helped, no doubt, by a revamped formation that saw Hartley play two holding midfielders behind a front 4 in the en vogue 4-2-3-1 formation. The formation allowed Boyle and Conroy to play to their strengths on the flanks as well as affording McAlister a freer role than he’s been permitted to take in recent weeks, with the experienced (if much-maligned) duo of McBride and Rae providing defensive cover and setting up forward offenses.
Hartley’s impact has been felt off the pitch too. Archie Knox has left the club, with his scouting role being absorbed into Hartley’s remit; the former Jambo has brought fitness coach Tom Ritchie in from Alloa to help revolutionise the players’ training regime, which was in evidence pre-match and at half-time on Saturday. For the first time since the Bonetti era, there’s a palpable enthusiasm among the supporters about the direction of the club and a sense that Dundee’s tendency to be a “choke” rather than a “clutch team” may finally be addressed. It is, of course, very early days, and too much expectation may weigh heavily on the players’ shoulders. However, under the direction of a young manager with fresh ideas, a passion for the game and the right contacts, Dundee fans can afford to feel a little more optimistic. Even if Falkirk or Hamilton still manage to pip us to the post, I’d back Hartley to repeat his playoff success at Dundee and lead us back to the Premiership- then, the real rebuilding work begins.