JOHN Brown began his new career as Dundee manager with a point earned in last-gasp fashion, and with only ten men. It can only be interpreted as a positive start following his controversial appointment.
Scorers: Dundee - Baird (42), Stewart (89); St Johnston - MacLean (36), MacKay (68)
Referee: W Collum
However, Dundee still equalled a club record of 14 league matches without a victory, and the first 88 minutes of this match summed up their fortunes at present.
Having recovered after the setback of losing the first goal, Dundee started the second-half brightly. However, Brown’s hope that his team might go on to claim victory were not helped by a red card for to centre-half Declan Gallagher after 65 minutes, following a foul on Steven MacLean.
St Johnstone skipper Dave Mackay scored directly from the resultant free-kick, and Dundee were left facing another uphill battle on an emotional night at Dens Park.
Brown craves acceptance and substitute Mark Stewart helped to this end with an 89th-minute equaliser.
MacLean had earlier opened the scoring for St Johnstone before the visitors were pegged back by John Baird’s header shortly before the interval.
It was yet another new era in a managerial sense at Dundee. As so often has proved the case with this club, the transfer of duties has not been a straightforward process. Brown introduced himself in the programme notes and thanked his backroom staff for the help they have already lent him in “challenging circumstances”.
Of course, there was little need for him to introduce himself. Everybody was already aware of Brown, and not just because of his time at Dens as a player. For many, it was a case of falling in one of two camps. You were either for Brown or you were against him. Some, though, have acknowledged that it is hardly Brown’s fault that he was asked to take over from Barry Smith, amid something approaching civil unrest at the club. Although there was no invitation to welcome the new manager, as would normally be the case, Brown nevertheless strode with great intent down the touchline just prior to kick-off, in suit and brown brogues.
For those intrigued by Brown’s reception, it proved fairly positive. The St Johnstone fans saluted his appearance with the expected volley of jeers. From the Dundee supporters, however, there was mostly generous applause. In the eyes of the home fans, the villains are not those who inhabit the dug-out, no matter how detached the side have become at the bottom. Here they set about making their position look at least a little less desperate.
Perhaps the greatest threat to Dundee’s prospects is apathy. The appointment of Brown sought to deal with this, although judging by the numbers inside Dens, not many were sufficiently roused to attend. The principal factor for the downturn in numbers is Dundee’s hopeless position at the bottom of the league, although Brown has refused to surrender to what many feel is the inevitable fate of relegation. He must have felt satisfied with how last night’s game opened. The home side knew they could ill-afford to lose an early goal, given all that had gone on.
They avoided this, at least. Indeed, Dundee came close to opening the scoring through a Gary Harkins header that went wide of the post, while a free-kick from Ryan Conroy brought out a fine flying save from Alan Mannus. Robert Douglas, making his 300th appearance for the club in two spells, was not tested to any great extent until the 35th minute, when a Patrick Cregg shot from just inside the box forced the keeper to save. Sadly for Douglas, the ball only looped up off him and provided MacLean with the opportunity to head the rebound into the net. It was a frustrating goal to concede on such a significant occasion for the keeper.
It did not prove completely deflating for Dundee, however. Harkins hit a post just five minutes later with a strongly hit shot from just outside the six-yard box, to continue his misfortune in front of goal since re-joining the club. However, just two minutes later, John Baird exorcised a demon by scoring his first league goal at Dens, and only his second of the season.
A corner from Conroy was flicked on by Lewis Toshney and Baird was perfectly placed to flick the ball into the net with his head. There was more than one reason to celebrate for Dundee fans. As well as it being the first goal of John Brown’s tenure, it was the side’s first for a remarkable 575 minutes of SPL football. Few could argue that Dundee did not deserve to be level at the interval. Having re-established a foothold in the game, Brown’s side emerged with a renewed purpose after the interval, and they should have gone ahead midway through the second half. Mannus, however, made a fine double save with his legs, first to deny Toshney, and then, after Harkins had threaded a pass through to his team-mate, from Conroy.
These felt like defining moments. Two minutes later, Dundee were reduced to ten men when Gallagher was adjudged by referee Willie Collum to have denied MacLean a goalscoring opportunity when fouling him just outside the box. The free-kick was delayed while Brown made an immediate substitution, with a flustered Davide Grassi ordered by the new manager to get himself on the pitch.
Essentially, Dundee had only nine men on the park when Collum signalled for the kick to be taken. Nicky Riley lingered by the touchline as he waited to be replaced. Behind him, Mackay, a former Dundee player, clipped an expertly taken free-kick into the net. By the dug-out, Brown kicked the air in fury, before testing the Dundee fans’ patience by replacing Harkins with Colin Nish. He had already sent on Stewart for Baird, and that paid off in the 89th minute when the striker thumped the ball home from close range after a goalmouth scramble.
Dundee: Douglas, Irvine, Benedictus, Gallagher, Toshney, Riley, McAlister, Davidson, Conroy, Harkins, John Baird. Subs: Alex Baird, McBride, Milne, Grassi, Morgan, Nish, Stewart.
St Johnstone: Mannus, MacKay, McCracken, Wright, Scobbie, Abeid, Cregg, Millar, Craig, MacLean, Vine. Subs: Tuffey, Callum Davidson, Anderson, Tade, Hasselbaink, Edwards, Caddis.