Whenever Dundee have been close to promotion in the past, I’ve always taken the “touch wood” approach- never be confident, never mind complacent; talk up the opponents and highlight your own team’s deficiencies, and never for a second contemplate it might actually happen. Since that approach never worked, I’ve allowed myself to believe this year, particularly after the weekend’s results, that this- finally- is our year. I’ve even taken to tempting fate (and probably turning a few folk against our ambitions) by playing We Are The Champions once or twice.
Listening to Queen’s famous ditty, I realised how apt the words are for our campaign this season if we do emerge victorious. The song is not all about rubbing your success in your opponents’ face- in fact, the verses highlight the long, hard slog it’s taken to get to the top. For any fan that’s attended Dens on a regular basis this season, particularly before Paul Hartley took over, we know it’s been no pleasure cruise. We’ve had sand kicked in our face repeatedly, and even when we’ve been top in the past we’ve never fully believed. Now, with the right manager, a stingy defence and a functioning attack, we’re beginning to.
Although I missed this weekend’s stunning 4-0 victory over Cowdenbeath that took us back to the summit because of work, the highlights- and the plaudits given to the young players Kerr and Wighton given a chance at the business end of the season to prove themselves- tell their own story.
Young right-back Cameron Kerr is an unknown quantity to our opponents, as (to a lesser extent) is striker Craig Wighton, and unleashing them at the start of a run against teams at the lower end of the league has already paid dividends. Hartley has also invigorated the likes of Dyer and Boyle, two bit-part players that are now the first names on the team-sheet and provide pace and options out wide. There’s a palpable move towards pace and skill over strength and grit under Hartley without sacrificing too much of the latter in a league that resembles rugby union more often than it does La Liga.
Although it’s still not always the most beautiful football you’ll see, it’s effective, and the team seems to be clicking just as Hamilton are faltering. Deploying Rae and McAlister in the middle – an area of the park posted missing for most of the season- seemed to finally strike the perfect balance in midfield. The game against Cowdenbeath had the interesting sub-plot surrounding our pre-contact agreement with striker Greg Stewart (and rumours of a similar arrangement with the sought-after Kane Hemmings). Regardless of what league Dundee are in next year, these canny acquisitions signal a further move away from the “hired heavies” look that Bomber preferred and bodes well for Hartley’s aim of building for the long-term.
Whether it’s Queen or a collective grumble that emanates from Dens on May 3rd depends as much on Hamilton’s stumbling as it does our success. Although we should, on paper, beat Morton, Alloa and Dumbarton and win the league regardless of what happens elsewhere, we’ve made a bit of a habit of struggling for breath at the summit. With suspensions and injuries beginning to tally up for Hamilton (who face the same three teams in their run-in), more dropped points and a chance for us to put some more clear blue water between our goal differences would be welcomed. Falkirk do appear to be hitting their stride now, but 4 points behind with only 9 left to play is probably a step too far. However, if they were to edge ahead of Hamilton this weekend and we were to win, the psychological blow to Accies- and the remaining 4-point gap between ourselves and Hamilton- could be just the ticket.