AT THE start of the season, David Clarkson didn’t have a club, never mind the kind of historic goalscoring sequence that has prompted talk of a Scotland call-up. Released by Bristol Rovers in the summer, he trained with Kilmarnock, St Johnstone and his former club, Motherwell, only to persuade none of them that he was worth a contract.
Then Paul Hartley came along. Since the Dundee manager took a chance on him in early September, the 29-year-old striker has never looked back, scoring a goal in each of his first eight games, the last of which was a late winner against Aberdeen in Saturday’s William Hill Scottish Cup fourth-round tie at Dens Park.
It was, perhaps, Clarkson’s most important yet. Not only did it move him to within one of the record nine consecutive matches in which Johnny Bell scored for Dundee in the 1920s, it secured his team a place in today’s fifth-round draw, which even Hartley admitted was more than they deserved.
After a manic opening period in which Thomas Konrad, the Dundee defender, scored for each team, the game was controlled by Aberdeen, especially in the second half. Their failure to capitalise meant that they moved into stoppage time, a little disappointed that they would have only a replay to show for their efforts.
Then, a flick from Clarkson, a nod back to him by James McPake – who was, in the circumstances, inexplicably high up the pitch – and the man of the moment was off and running into the penalty box.
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It was his first chance of the game, Dundee’s only one in the second half, but with Gordon Strachan, the Scotland manager, watching from the stands, he calmly knocked it past Scott Brown, the Aberdeen goalkeeper.
“He is ice-cool,” said Konrad. “I have never played with a striker like him, never seen a striker like him. I’m so happy that he’s in our team.”
Clarkson scored one fewer than Konrad mind you. The 25-year-old German had given Dundee an early lead when he rose to meet Gary Harkins’ quick free-kick and headed it down, under Brown’s body and across the line.
Thirteen minutes later, he was finding the net at the other end, although he could hardly be faulted for being the luckless defender who turned Niall McGinn’s low cross over the line.
Thereafter, Aberdeen had the upper hand. A combination of misfortune, soft finishing and inspired goalkeeping by Scott Bain frustrated the visitors, who will play much worse than this during the season ahead and win comfortably. McGinn, Adam Rooney and David Goodwillie all passed up decent opportunities to put their team ahead.
Even after Clarkson’s late intervention, Dundee rode their luck, moreso even than they had before.
With almost the last kick of the match, McGinn struck a perfect, meaty volley, only to see Bain, miraculously, tip it onto the underside of the crossbar. So powerfully had the shot been hit that it bounced up off the line and against the woodwork for a second time.
Derek McInnes, the Aberdeen manager, had the look of a broken man afterwards. It is one thing to exit a competition that he had realistic hopes of winning, but to do so with a performance that earned a standing ovation from the travelling support made it even more painful.
That Clarkson, a player he released when he was the manager of Bristol City, should score the winner, with his solitary sniff of goal, hardly helped matters.
Mark Reynolds, the Aberdeen defender was equally despondent. He played alongside Clarkson during their early days at Motherwell, so he wanted the striker’s career to get back on the rails, but not here. Not like this.
“No disrespect to Clarkie, but he never kicked a ball,” said Reynolds. “I’m sure he won’t mind me saying that because he’s scored the winner that’s put them into the next round of the cup. That’s what you want your strikers to do. They’re there to score goals. His conversion rate is one from one today. I think that’s the only shot he had.
“But that’s football. At the end of the day, they’ve scored two goals and we’ve scored one.
“Regardless of how many chances we’ve had or how much possession we’ve had, how good we’ve looked or how well we’ve passed the ball, we’re out of the cup. It’s about being in the hat. We’re not, they are and it’s a horrible feeling.”
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