DUNDEE returned to their bad old, sad old ways at Dens Park yesterday when they didn’t so much lose to Motherwell as step aside and wave them through.
Scorers: Motherwell: Higdon (9) Law (63, 79)
Two goals by Nicky Law and one for Michael Higdon were a fair reflection of the visitors’ dominance, but it was much too easy for John Brown’s liking.
Since his appointment as manager, Dundee have been more robust, more competitive than they were under Barry Smith, but not here. They didn’t pick up men in the box, they didn’t close down and they didn’t begin to threaten a side who are well on course to finish second in the Clydesdale Bank Premier League.
Brown revealed later he had been in talks with Andy Barrowman, the Dunfermline Athletic striker who has been made redundant, but it will take more than that to make a difference. Still trailing second-bottom St Mirren by 13 points, this was more like the Dundee side that looked out of its depth earlier in the season.
Motherwell had more quality in every department, from Law in midfield to James McFadden wide and Higdon up front. The big striker has scored four times against Dundee this season, the latest of which takes his league total for the campaign to 21. He is closing in on the club’s post-war record, set by Willie Pettigrew, who netted 23 in season 1975-76.
Higdon is one of many Motherwell players out of contract at the end of the season, but he said later that he was in no rush to leave. Three points clear of third-placed Inverness, his team look favourites to finish second to Celtic. “To be best of the rest, with our resources, would be some achievement,” he said.
If Dundee had taken any heed of their previous matches against Motherwell, they would have singled out Higdon for special attention, but they hadn’t and they didn’t. Worse than that, they ignored him altogether, or at least that’s how it seemed when he helped himself to an early goal. Only nine minutes of the game had gone when Chris Humphrey stood one up at the back post for the advancing striker. Steve Simonsen, the Dundee goalkeeper, was posted missing, as was everyone except Higdon, who could hardly have asked for an easier header. From no more than three yards out, he nodded it back over the line. Dundee, all too flimsy at the back, already looked like they were in for a rough afternoon. McFadden is not the kind of player to dominate games, but every now and then he would collect the ball deep and run with it. On one occasion, when he reached the edge of the penalty box, he tested Simonsen with the outside of his left boot.
Then came another clearcut chance that must have had Brown squirming. When Brian Easton, the Dundee full-back, dived into a challenge on Humphrey, the latter’s first touch left his opponent for dead. Humphrey then hit the byeline, cut the ball back to the edge of the six-yard area and watched as Henrik Ojamaa shot at the goalkeeper.
Dundee lacked quality in the final third. Ryan Conroy flicked a couple of shots over the bar, and Jim McAlister’s shot was too straight, but Gary Harkins at least provided a creative spark. When he barged through the middle and curved a shot on target, Darren Randolph dived all his length to push it away. John Baird, on to the rebound in a flash, pulled his shot across the goalkeeper and wide of the post.
Higdon, though, was the biggest threat in either team. After stepping inside Davide Grassi, his curling left-foot shot was too high. Then, with his shirt being pulled in the box, he had enough strength and presence of mind to take a long ball on his chest and hook it narrowly over.
Mind you, as long as Dundee persist in leaving opponents with free headers, there is a chance for anyone to score, as Law discovered just after the hour. He had not a soul around him when Keith Lasley curled a cross into the heart of the penalty area. If he had wanted to bring it down, tee it up, even give the ball a polish, there would have been time, but instead he glanced it, first time, into the bottom corner. If Law was surprised by how easy that was, he must have been delighted to find that more was to follow. When a late corner by Tom Hateley fell to him at the other side of the box, the Motherwell midfield player had enough time to look up and bend a perfect shot into the net.