It seems not so long ago that Dundee dreaded the prospect of playing at home. Now, though, they’re turning Dens Park into the fortress they once craved.
Paul Hartley’s side approach 2017 with four wins and a draw from their last five matches on their own turf under their belts, with the latest success coming in this Tayside derby dismantling of St Johnstone.
Since getting the monkey off their backs against Motherwell in early November, the Dark Blues have barely looked back and taking 13 points from a possible 15 at Dens has been a significant factor in rising to seventh place in the Premiership.
Hartley’s side prevailed here courtesy of first-half goals from Faissal El-Bakhtaoui and Kostadin Gadzhalov, before an own goal in the second-half from Saints captain Steven Anderson ensured Tommy Wright’s side’s five-game unbeaten run came crashing to an end.
“It’s a nice way to finish off 2016,” Hartley said afterwards. “It’s not been easy this season. But if we can manage performances like that we’ll climb the table. It was important we got this victory. In the second-half, we managed the game properly and kept a clean sheet against difficult opposition. There’s not many teams who will beat St Johnstone 3-0.”
St Johnstone’s last loss had come away to Ross County back on 19 November when they went down 4-2, but they found themselves behind after just 14 minutes.
Dundee midfielder Paul McGowan released Marcus Haber down the right and the Canadian’s low cross was ideal for Frenchman El-Bakhtaoui who finished with a calm shot through Saints keeper Alexander Clark’s legs.
Saints, though, almost levelled in 22 minutes when they struck the woodwork. Dundee defender Cammy Kerr had brought down Danny Swanson to become the first player to be booked by Don Robertson, the referee. Up stepped Blair Alston to curl a 30-yard wind-assisted free-kick over the Dundee wall only to see it come crashing back off the cross-bar with home keeper Scott Bain beaten.
Gadzhalov, Dundee’s Bulgarian centre-back, made it 2-0 though when he drove an unstoppable volley high into the net from Haber’s check-down following McGowan’s free-kick.
Dundee started the second half in just as menacing mood and had a chance to go further ahead almost right away.
Tom Hateley’s effort was helped on in the direction of El-Bakhtaoui whose shot was deflected over from close-range.
But, in 57 minutes, they put the outcome beyond any doubt. O’Hara robbed Paton of possession before sliding his pass to Hateley whose low cross was turned into his own net at the near post by Anderson.
It was game over for the visitors who barely threatened Bain’s goal from then on as Dundee confidently saw things out.
Wright, the St Johnstone manager, was far from critical of his side’s overall performance. “It’s probably as well as we’ve played away from home with the ball this season,” he said. “We find ourselves 3-0 down when we shouldn’t be. They were clinical. We made mistakes and they punished us.”