JUST a few months ago, one of these teams was trying to stay in Scotland’s top flight, the other trying to escape its third tier.
At Dens Park yesterday, there were times when you couldn’t tell which was which. Only a penalty in stoppage time secured three points for Dundee. When William Robertson’s challenge on Steven Doris was deemed illegal by the referee, Kevin McBride, right, rammed his spot-kick down the middle.
Dundee’s first league win since being relegated did not come easily. Fortunate to be on level terms at the interval, they had most of the ball thereafter, but conspicuously failed to do much with it.
“We have to realise that teams will be gunning for us,” said John Brown, their manager. “But it was a stonewall penalty kick, and the game lasts 90 minutes.”
It was hard on Alloa, who had put so much into it. Two weeks after losing narrowly to Dundee in the Ramsdens Cup – again courtesy of a penalty – Paul Hartley’s part-time team were disciplined, and at times threatening, enough to suggest that they will survive in the Championship.
“I think we’ll be OK, I really do,” said their manager. “We’re new in the league, we’re a wee bit unknown. We’ve run Dundee close in the last couple of weeks. I think we’ll have a good season. I know what the players are capable of. I know what I get from them. I’m just a bit gutted for them today.”
Torrential rain around lunchtime left Dens splattered with trackside puddles, one of which swamped the away dugout. Not that it made any difference to Hartley, who spent the match teetering on the edge of his technical area, prompting and pointing and clapping his hands in frustration when a move broke down.
He has set high standards for his newly-promoted team, whose biggest challenge this season could be keeping him at Recreation Park. They are well-drilled, sharp of mind, if not feet, and surely destined to be more than just makeweights in the Championship.
This was the first time they had played Dundee in a league match for more than 35 years, but you would never have guessed it. After the two teams sized each other up in a cagey opening spell, Alloa grew in confidence, venturing with more frequency into their opponents’ box and deserving more than to reach the interval scoreless.
Ryan McCord thought he had opened their account when he returned Andy Kirk’s centre across the goalkeeper, but Kyle Letheren pushed his header away. Then James Creaney gave the home side a scare with his thumping, long-range effort that slipped by the upright. Alloa’s biggest chance of that opening period came when Declan McManus retrieved a ball that seemed to be heading out of play. His cross picked out Kirk, but the striker’s first touch sent it looping over the bar.
Dundee had plenty of possession, but it too seldom produced an end-product. Almost an hour had been played before it dawned upon Brown that they had troubled the Alloa goalkeeper only once, when Gary Irvine’s bicycle kick threatened to sneak under the bar. Dismayed by their shortcomings, the Dundee manager made a double-substitution, bringing on Steven Doris and Martin Boyle for Carlo Monti and Ryan Conroy.
The effect was negligible. Dundee were short of ideas, and when they did have a light-bulb moment, it quickly faded. Their only decent chance of the second half, indeed the entire game, came with 11 minutes left when Scott Bain, the Alloa goalkeeper, pushed a low cross into a crowded penalty area. Peter MacDonald strode on to the loose ball, but had his shot blocked by Ben Gordon. Then, from the rebound, Boyle’s crisp drive was saved by Bain.
Alloa, it has to be said, were even less productive in the half, almost all of which they spent on the back foot, but they stuck to their task and deserved better than to be floored by such a late blow.