Ross County made it to within touching distance of the top half of the league at Dens Park and in doing so sent Dundee to the brink of relegation.
Scorers: Ross County: Lawson (80) Glen (90)
A controversial goal ten minutes from time from Paul Lawson, with Graham Chambers, the assistant linesman, judging that the ball had crossed the line before rebounding into play again, broke the deadlock. Substitute Gary Glen rounded goalkeeper Rab Douglas in the final minute to leave County a goal short of the top six.
For those among the home fans expecting entertainment on a Friday night, the dispiriting manner of the defeat was unsatisfactory enough. However, judging by the jeers that filled the old stadium at the end, this loss was interpreted as another grim portent of an ever more inevitable outcome. The relinquishing of Dundee’s SPL status is simply a matter of time. In truth, despite the doubt over the first goal, Dundee deserved to take nothing from a match they contributed so little to.
The returning Gary Harkins billed Dundee’s remaining league programme as “14 cup finals” ahead of last night’s encounter. There was, sadly, little of the drama associated with such occasions, although the tension that comes with knowing victory is paramount perhaps accounted for the home side’s edgy, disjointed display.
Harkins’ involvement was a pre-match boost for Dundee as he made his second home debut following his move from Kilmarnock. The hope was that he might inject some craft and poise into a Dundee side whose lack of creativity helps explain their stranded position at the bottom of the league, with the home support having only been able to cheer eight goals at home this season. This remains the case.
Last weekend’s five-goal show against Morton in the Scottish Cup was a fillip but any hope that Dundee might carry on where they left off perished in the face of a resolute visiting team’s defence. Instead, it was County who carried what little goal threat there was.
Mihal Kovacevic forced Douglas to dive at his feet after quarter of an hour after he broke free of the Dundee defence, where the young centre-halves, Lewis Toshney and Declan Gallagher, were experiencing a nervy evening. John McKendrick, the referee, ignored the mild appeals for a penalty. An effort shortly afterwards from another defender, Grant Munro, was palmed out by Douglas and Gary Irvine thrashed the ball behind.
The Dundee keeper looked a little less assured when dealing with Kovacevic’s strike from distance but he redeemed himself by clearing the ball from the feet of Sam Morrow. The one-sided flow of the match was difficult for the home fans to accept, but there was a brief yelp of excitement when a shot from Jim McAlister appeared to strike Scott Boyd’s hand. However, the hoped-for penalty was not given and only Harkins raised excitement levels in the home stands again before half-time, powering a shot just over the bar.
County made the only half-time alteration, sending on Steffen Wohlfarth. Minutes after the re-start the visitors almost made the breakthrough when Morrow pounced on a mis-judgment from Toshney but his attempt to steer the ball past Douglas was not quite accurate enough.
The visitors, though, continued to press and only an unfortunate bobble of the ball saved Dundee after 53 minutes, following a fine through-ball from Iain Vigurs. Wohlfarth perhaps tried to be a little too clever when attempting to clip the ball over Douglas, but was undone in any event by an unhelpful bounce.
Again, the home supporters were quick to voice their displeasure at this pattern of play. Barry Smith sought to appease them, switching Colin Nish for Nicky Riley after 58 minutes, and pushing Harkins further forward.
When a chance did fall for the home team, it dropped at the feet of full-back Brian Easton, who was unable to get his head over the ball after a free-kick had been partially cleared. His shot cleared the bar; Dens groaned again. At the other end, Morrow slammed a shot against the post.
Dundee attempted to rouse themselves in what remained of the match but it was all rather tame. Richard Brittain came close with a free-kick for County, and maintained the trend of dominance by the visitors.
Their opening goal, when it did come, was far from clear-cut, with the ball, from Lawson’s shot smacking down off the bar before returning to open play. Assistant referee Chambers, although not in position by the bye-line, signalled a goal after initial confusion.
Douglas was booked amid the home protests, and though Dundee looked to have a strong claim for a penalty when John Baird was scythed down in the six-yard box, there was little else in the way of a response from the home team. Rather, it was County who struck again, Glen expertly rounding Douglas to score with the last kick of the game.
Dundee: Douglas, Irvine, Toshney, Gallagher, Easton, Davidson, McBride (Stewart 78), Harkins, J Baird, McAlister, Nish (Riley 57). Subs not used: A Baird, Lockwood, Conroy, Benedictus, Morgan.
Ross County: Brown, Kovacevic, Munro, Boyd, Ikonomou, Cooper (Wohlfarth 46), Brittain, Lawson, Vigurs (Kettlewell 83), Quinn, Morrow (Glen 68). Subs not used: Fraser, Hainault, MacPhee, Ross.