Below the sanctuary of Celtic at the summit, this season’s Ladbrokes Premiership is fast becoming a lesson in Chaos Theory, such is the arbitrary nature of league positioning as teams fluctuate wildly between bottom feeders to top six hopefuls. The best example of this is Dundee. Paul Hartley’s side have gone from relegation favourites to sitting just below sixth-placed Motherwell on goals scored, with this narrow victory over Inverness their third win in four games.
The hosts were far from their best but still managed to end a startling long sequence of games without a win against their Highland visitors. The 2009 Challenge Cup final was the last time they managed to emerge victorious from a meeting between the two clubs, a run that stretched to 16 matches before yesterday’s fixture.
The silver lining for Richie Foran’s side was that they were better in just about every aspect other than the scoreline. Still, that’s scant consolation after they dropped below Dundee in the league table, having registered their third successive defeat.
“Our best performance of the season,” said Foran with a rueful smile on his face. “I was delighted with the lads and I went around the dressing room and shook every one of their hands after the game. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not happy with the result and we need to get better defensively. That’s something we’ll really work on in the coming weeks.”
Inverness used a flexible 4-2-3-1 to dominate the game’s possession and pen Dundee back for long periods. The reason they didn’t earn just reward for their efforts was a lack of composure in the final third – and the lack of a player called Craig Wighton. The striker is finally living up to the hype generated by his debut in a Dundee shirt aged 16. He’s beginning to play with confidence and has become the creative spark this workmanlike Dundee side badly needs.
During the first half, he was at the centre of all Dundee highlights, including the opening goal. Attacking the space in between full-back and centre-half, Wighton coolly slotted the ball across Owain Fon Williams and into the far corner. A minute later the 19-year-old fashioned an opening for Paul McGowan, only for the midfielder to lose his footing, and had a penalty shout turned down by referee Andrew Dallas.
Inverness were largely frustrated by the trio of Dundee’s centre-backs, who denied space through the middle and forced their visitors out wide, but Foran’s side almost went into the break level when Ross Draper forced Scott Bain into a close-range save following an almighty scramble at a Caley Thistle corner.
Lonsana Doumbouya managed to fashion a chance for himself six minutes after the interval, snaking past a couple of defenders before seeing his shot blocked for a corner by Kostadin Gadzhalov. The resulting set-piece then saw Josh Meekings glance a header wide.
Having denied them at one end, Gadzhalov then punished Inverness at the other. The defender rose highest to power home Tom Hateley’s free-kick and gave Dundee some much-needed breathing space.
Doumbouya continued to threaten and had two chances in quick succession as the minutes ticked away. The striker had a header cleared off the line and glanced another one wide from a Scott Boden cross.
They finally grabbed the goal their play deserved when Lewis Horner’s deep cross to the back post found Carl Tremarco running from the left. The full-back planted his free header across goal and beyond the diving Bain.
Hateley, in addition to providing an assist for the winning goal, helped protect Dundee’s lead on 87 minutes when his lunging block took the sting out of a Ross Draper effort when the midfielder looked certain to score.
After surviving a 20-yard Greg Tansey free-kick deep into injury time, Dundee broke away with Wighton racing ahead of Horner. Rather than allow a third goal, the right-back decided to bring down the Dundee attacker, incurring a straight red card for his troubles.