JOHN Brown’s remarkable attempt to pull off mission impossible is still going strong.
Scorer: Dundee - Conroy 82
Referee: J Beaton. Attendance: 5,896
Yesterday, in his first game as the permanent manager of Dundee, he carried on the impressive work he had done as interim, taking the club’s unlikely survival bid into yet another week courtesy of Ryan Conroy’s late winner.
With the ink on his two-year contract barely dry, the manager who was subject to widespread ridicule after his arrival in February secured his third straight league win to reduce what was once a chasm at the foot of the table to eight points with three matches left. Brown has lost only one of his eight SPL games in charge.
If beating the drop is still the tallest of orders for Dundee, you can understand why they played The Great Escape at full-time here. Nothing but a win would do for the Tayside team, and they got it. They needed St Mirren to drop points at Easter Road, and they did, although it was thanks to Hibs’ late equaliser from a former Dundee player. “One Leigh Griffiths,” chanted the home support to their visitors from Edinburgh.
Dundee are at home to Aberdeen next Sunday, by which time they might already effectively be relegated if St Mirren draw with Hearts, but Brown is confident that fear will get the better of Danny Lennon’s side. “I think you’ll be smelling it coming from them,” said the Dundee manager. “They’re going to Tynecastle, which is never an easy place to go. Unless they’ve got Old Spice to cover it, it will be an interesting weekend.”
Dundee played against ten men for two-thirds of this one, but they had to wait until ten minutes from the end to get their breakthrough. That, said Brown, makes him optimistic that Hearts can do him a favour on Saturday. “Hearts put in a great shift with ten men,” said Brown. “If they do that with 11 men against St Mirren, you never know, we might take it to another week.”
It was the second successive game in which Dundee’s opponents had a man sent off. Just as Jim Goodwin was red-carded for St Mirren seven days before, so was Andy Webster sent packing here, this time much earlier in the game. The common denominator in both incidents was Carl Finnigan, the big Dundee striker who seems to like a tangle. In the same way that he persuaded Goodwin to commit two bookable offences, Finnigan got under Webster’s skin in an untidy opening half hour.
The Hearts defender earned his first yellow after wrestling with Finnigan some 30 yards out, the result of which was a storming free kick by Kyle Benedictus that Jamie MacDonald pushed over the bar. Then, after Finnigan claimed to have been booted in the face by Jamie Hamill in the Hearts penalty area, a second caution for Webster ended the latter’s contribution to proceedings. As Finnigan challenged for a high ball on the halfway line, Webster went through him from behind. John Beaton, the referee, sent him off, much to the disgust of Gary Locke. “To say I am unhappy with that decision is an understatement,” said the Hearts manager.
Hearts brought on Mehdi Taouil for Michael Ngoo, and withdrew Darren Barr to central defence, but Dundee’s effort to capitalise on their numerical advantage lacked an end product. John Baird pulled wide after a half-cleared cross, Lewis Toshney sliced high and wide, while Jim McAlister’s header was too straight and weak. Even before Webster’s departure, Brown was turning away in disgust when there was not a single taker at the back post for Kevin McBride’s cross.
Still, at least they were applying pressure. Hearts had only an early free kick by Hamill, saved at the second attempt by Steve Simonsen, to show for a first half in which they were glad to have lost only their captain. Four minutes into the second half, a goal was almost conceded, but Brian Easton’s header, after a corner by Conroy, crashed off the upright.
With news filtering through that St Mirren were losing, then drawing, then losing again, there was every incentive for Dundee, for whom Conroy, a half-time substitute, made the difference. On one occasion, just outside the penalty area, he faked to shoot with his left foot, stepped inside his marker and hit one narrowly wide with his right.
With nothing to lose, Dundee went for it, putting Nicky Riley on for Baird, but it was Conroy who finally gave them the lead with ten minutes left. His free kick, from nearly 30 yards, took a deflection as it spun past a wrong-footed MacDonald to nestle in the bottom corner.
It was a nervous finale for Dundee. Ryan Stevenson had a shot saved by Simonsen. Then, with three minutes left, Dundee had Riley sent off for raising his hands to Kevin McHattie. Brown will be without him next week, together with Gary Harkins, who missed this one with a cracked rib. He is out for the rest of the season, just when it is getting interesting.
Dundee: Simonsen; Benedictus, Lockwood (Conroy 46), Gallagher; Toshney, McAlister, McBride, Davidson (Nish 61), Easton; Finnigan, J Baird (Riley 65). Subs: A Baird, Irvine, Kerr, Barrowman.
Hearts: MacDonald; Hamill, McGowan, Webster, McHattie; Holt (B King 82), Barr, Stevenson, Walker (Carrick 46); Ngoo (Taouil 32), Sutton. Subs: Ridgers, Smith, Tapping, McKay.