TO the list of doors and walls and goodness knows what else Terry Butcher has battered during his tempestuous football career can be added the dugout at Dens Park.
Scorers: Dundee - Baird 12 ; Inverness CT - McKay 82
The Inverness manager, pictured right, who later described his team’s performance yesterday as “pure s***”, got so frustrated at one point that he punched a hole in the Perspex beside him.
When asked about it later, he admitted that it made for a better scoreline than his team had managed. “Dugout 0 Butcher 1, I think it was. At least I had an impact at Dens Park. I shall obviously be billed for that. I shall pay for it. I’m just annoyed. It’s most frustrating when we play like that because we can play so much better.”
It was a little harsh on the Highland team, who hadn’t played at all badly in the first half, and should have scored in that period, but needed in the end a late equaliser by Billy McKay to return north with a point. Although they have slipped to fourth in the SPL, they were up against a different Dundee team to that which has laboured through so much of the season.
It would be an exaggeration to describe Dundee as transformed by the arrival of John Brown, but those who ridiculed his appointment have gone a little quiet. Unbeaten in three league games since the interim manager’s arrival, they led for much of this one thanks to John Baird’s early goal and can count themselves unfortunate not to have won.
It is, in all probability, too late to make a difference in their battle to avoid relegation, but after the season they have had, they should be grateful for small mercies. They are still 14 points behind second-bottom St Mirren, still destined to take the plunge, but at least they look less out of place in the SPL.
“Not getting the second goal was a bit disappointing, but with the effort they put in for long periods, it was like we were one of the top-half teams rather than fighting at the bottom,” said Brown. “We have nothing to lose. Let’s go for it. Our quality in the final third probably let us down, but for effort and desire, I couldn’t fault them. They gave us everything.”
This one only went ahead after a couple of hastily-arranged pitch inspections. That Craig Thomson, the referee, deemed it fit for purpose must have come as a relief to Dundee, who were anxious to build on the midweek defeat of St Mirren. Their desire to maintain what passes for momentum at Dens Park these days was apparent in the way they set about the task here.
Within 13 minutes of the start, they had taken the lead thanks mainly to Ryan Conroy’s surge through the middle, followed by a delicate touch into the path of Baird. The striker thought it worth a crack from the edge of the penalty area, and he was right, for the shot dipped cheekily between Ryan Esson and his right-hand post.
That gave Dundee something to cling to, and cling to it they did, tenaciously and with a little luck along the way. During the rest of a first half that stretched the home side, there were several let-offs, the first of which came when Gary Warren’s header was cleared off the line, first by Gary Irvine, then by Iain Davidson after the ball had spun back towards the net.
Foremost in the Inverness search for an equaliser was Andrew Shinnie, who is reported to have been in talks with Birmingham City. Playing off McKay, the main striker, Shinnie tried his luck from a range of angles. One piercing shot was spilled by Rab Douglas, another fizzed by the far post, but the best of the lot was from the unlikeliest of positions. Douglas was lost as it dipped and swerved over his head before smacking off the crossbar.
Dundee were standing up to the challenge, and might even have doubled their advantage on the counter-attack. When Nicky Riley swept a low cross behind the Inverness defence, Baird prodded the ball goalwards, but it bounced back off the goalkeeper’s body.
Brown’s team started the second half as they had the first, eagerly pressing forward, with Ryan Conroy especially prominent. His corner to the front post offered half a chance to Iain Davidson, whose header was tipped over by Esson.
Conroy also bent a free kick by the post, but thereafter the game degenerated into a midfield struggle. It wasn’t until 17 minutes from the end that Inverness again threatened to find a way through, although the shot by Owain Tudor-Jones took an eternity to trundle past the post.
Inverness seemed to have run out of ideas, much to the frustration of Butcher, who emerged from the (broken) dugout with ten minutes left to shout and bawl. A few moments later, his team had equalised with a goal of such simplicity that you wondered why they had not bothered to do it sooner. Graeme Shinnie’s cross went all the way to the back post, where McKay stole in to head it across the line.
Dundee: Douglas, Irvine, Toshney, Grassi, Easton, Riley, Davidson, McAlister, Conroy, Harkins, John Baird. Subs: Alex Baird, McBride, Finnigan, Benedictus, Gallagher, Nish, Stewart.
Inverness CT: Esson, Raven, Warren, Meekings, Taylor, Doran, Tudur Jones, Draper, Graeme Shinnie, Andrew Shinnie, McKay. Subs: Reguero, Foran, Ross, Sutherland, Polworth, Gibbons, Devine.