ANYONE who thinks that Dundee are going to submit without a fight are mistaken. Before last weekend, St Mirren were eight points clear of them at the foot of the table.
Motherwell 1: Higdon 45
Dundee 1: Riley 28
But while the Paisley side have failed to add to their tally, Dundee have picked up four points from six and are visibly growing in confidence. The Dens Park side were looking for only their third SPL win of the season, which would suggest that their desire for the points was the greater going into this one. Having gained some valuable self-belief in their victory over Hearts last weekend, Barry Smith’s men wanted to keep the momentum going. Motherwell, though, had just as pressing a need for the three points. Since this pair met at the start of September, Stuart McCall’s men had managed just one win in seven games.
Hardly the form anyone expected from the Fir Park side. While everyone knew that this season would be a struggle for late entrants Dundee, it was anticipated Motherwell would fare better. Best of the rest behind Celtic and Rangers last term, they have struggled to find the same level of consistency following the departure of some experienced personnel. Perhaps, more tellingly, they have also missed the killer final ball, the clinical touch in front of goal. In their first six home league fixtures they managed to net just six goals, with the multi-pronged front line lacking the spark of the previous campaign. It was enough to cause a wee bit of concern, especially when they went a goal behind.
Motherwell had enjoyed the better of the scoring opportunities up until then but had been unable to beat Rab Douglas in the Dundee goal. After a few weak efforts at either end, the best of the early chances fell to Nicky Law in the 19th minute. Michael Higdon cut it back and the midfielder, unmarked on the edge of the area, drilled his drive at goal but Douglas got a hand to it to push it over the bar. It signalled the start of a good spell for the home side, who again came close two minutes later, this time it was Jamie Murphy who cut in from the left and blitzed a ferocious angled shot wide of the far post. It was even closer in the 23rd minute but Gary Irvine produced an acrobatic overhead kick to clear Higdon’s header off the line.
Dundee were the ones who made the breakthrough first, though. Against the run of play they carved out a lovely goal, which had much to do with tenacity and some trickery as first Jim McAlister burst down the wing before riding tackles to cut inside and play the ball across the box. Motherwell lunged in for a couple of blocks but when the ball broke, it was Nicky Riley who pounced on it and after weaving his way into the box he lashed a lovely angled shot across Darren Randolph’s goal, finding a spot just inside the post.
The goal bolstered Dundee, while Motherwell were jolted, some anxiety slipping into their play. Those nerves were not helped by the play of McAlister and Riley on the flanks, who pestered the home rearguard. Motherwell kept at it, though, but their efforts were still too insipid.
But with half-time just seconds away, Dundee caved. While Douglas dived and got an outstretched hand to the original effort, Higdon was the quickest to react to the loose ball and slotted it away from close range. It was the goal which brought his six-game drought to an end and it was a blow to Dundee’s confidence.
But if that self-belief had been dented, it wasn’t obliterated and they came out in the second half determined to compete. Motherwell had most of the pressure but simply huffed and puffed against a defensively dogged Dundee. Both sides made changes but while the substitutes freshened things up, they could not ignite anything truly special. Motherwell did think they had won it with just three minutes left, though, but as they peeled away to celebrate, they were subdued by the sight of the far-side assistant’s raised flag.
Substitute Bob McHugh tried to snatch it for the home side in stoppage time but he couldn’t get enough bend on his curled shot and it went a-begging, as did Motherwell’s hopes of ending what is becoming an increasingly frustrating run of results.