One plus-sized left hand goalie glove was the difference on Saturday. With news filtering in through smartphones around 4.45pm that Hamilton had taken an implausible 10-2 lead against Morton, Dumbarton’s Bryan Prunty rose in the heart of the Dundee penalty box to direct a header to the bottom-right corner of Kyle Letheren’s goal. As time seemed to slow and my heart began to drop, out of nowhere came the outstretched fingertips of Dundee’s Welsh wizard to tip the ball around the corner and preserve our slender 2-1 advantage.
Had Prunty’s header gone in, it would have given Hamilton the league title not on points or even on goal difference but on goals scored. It would have broken the hearts of young and old alike, many of whom were making their first pilgrimage to Dens in weeks, months or years and who had thought as late as the 68th minute that our 2-0 lead was enough to start the party (or, in the case of the Derry, a conga line). The thought of watching the helicopter carrying the league trophy that has passed over Dens momentarily travelling back to Lanarkshire, and of the barrage of texts, Facebook messages and tweets from “well-meaning” Tangerine friends and other fans was dreaded almost as much as the thought of slogging it out over another 4 playoff games to claw our way back to the Premiership when the ultimate prize had been so close.
In the end, none of this came to pass. When the full three minutes of heart-stopping, panic-inducing injury time played out admirably in the corner by Riley, Beattie and Conroy was brought to an end by the referee, momentary relief gave way to disbelief and unbridled joy as thousands of fans (including myself and my nephew) poured onto the hallowed turf like kids after their final day of school before the summer. After so many false dawns, near-misses and apparent setbacks, it was finally Dundee’s time in the sun, and it was- and still is- glorious.
The plaudits for getting Dundee over the line belong to several people. One of the surprising names on my list is John Brown. Despite not being a fan of every signing or of his tactics, the capture of Kyle Letheren- who was awarded the Player of the Year trophy on Saturday night and finished the season with a post-war record of 19 league clean sheets- and the much-maligned signing of Christian Nade were vital not just on Saturday but across much of the latter half of the season.
The French striker has surprised many- including me- whose view of his ability was distorted by his time at Hearts. He’ll never be a goal machine and definitely operates better as part of a front two, but his quiet determination and physical transformation have added a touch of class to Dundee’s proceedings. He has become a deserved cult hero at Dens, and I hope will be given his chance to prove himself in the Premiership next year.
However, my main thanks go to Paul Hartley. Since his appointment, there has been a clear plan for every game- even if it doesn’t always work out- and players like Dyer, Boyle, McBride and Nade have found their place and their form in the team. We’ve become a very tight defensive unit, and have looked more like a Premiership outfit in terms of fitness and variety of play.
Most importantly, he is at the centre of a long-term, ambitious plan for Dundee. Although we’ve often been ambitious, we’ve not often had a plan for that ambition, never mind a long-term plan. Already, Hartley has made it clear that he’s looking to make sensible signings for next season, a policy helped by having so long to prepare for life in the Premiership.
He’s also made it clear he won’t be afraid to make hard decisions (in other words, unexpected squad changes) to keep the Dark Blues up next year.
The sort of stability both on and off the park that Dark Blues have craved for over a decade finally seems to be within our grasp. If we can make the right signings for next season and also buy for the future, while continuing to improve the facilities at Dens and communication with the fans, we can fulfil the potential that was demonstrated by the rocking full house on Saturday. We’re back in the big time, and with Hartley at the helm, I’m backing us to make the right decisions and to stay there for a very long time indeed.