BILLY Mckay secured what may yet prove a very precious point for Dundee United in time added on at Tannadice yesterday. But that was only the half of it as this edition of the Dundee derby eventually lived up to the fixture’s reputation for providing drama.
Dundee derby eventually lived up to the fixture’s reputation for providing drama.
For the second time this season, a team recovered from two goals down. United did to Dundee what Dundee had done to them in August. That comeback is reckoned by some to have marked the start of the Tannadice side’s decline. Yesterday’s draw was secured in the dying moments by Mckay’s second of the afternoon – both he and Dundee’s Kane Hemmings scored doubles. The point draws Mixu Paatelainen’s side to within seven points of 11th-placed Kilmarnock, lending them further encouragement in their relegation fight.
And how the Finn celebrated Mckay’s flying header in stoppage time, turning to the Dundee supporters and cupping his ears as if to say, ‘I can’t hear you now?’ He was also photographed directing a provocative arm-pumping gesture towards these fans. The manager had been conducting a running battle with those Dundee followers enjoying antagonising him behind his back. He later complained the stewards were not paying enough attention to their duties and were too busy standing around talking to each other.
He could have no truck with the commitment levels of his players, who looked down and out at half-time following Hemmings’ brace towards the end of the first half. There is no question United were handed a lifeline shortly into the second half when Dundee goalkeeper Scott Bain made what has to be described as an injudicious challenge on Mckay.
The striker was seeking to latch on to a pass and got a toe to the ball before being upended by Bain. Arguments will rage about whether the striker would have scored were he able to carry on unimpeded – he seemed to be heading away from goal – but Bain invited calamity by being so rash.
Mckay coped with the delay while Dundee substitute keeper David Mitchell took Bain’s place, striking his penalty firmly down the middle. Mitchell dived to his right, meaning he was required to retrieve the ball from the back of the net within seconds of his first Dundee appearance.
This left 40-plus minutes which Dundee needed to see out with a debutant goalkeeper, a rejigged back line – they lost two centre-halves before half-time to injury – and tiring frontman in Hemmings, whose first-half opportunism was now at risk of being undone. That the visitors so nearly managed to pull it off is testimony to what they put into a game that yielded no end of talking points.
But none of this was anticipated by the opening stages. Even taking into account it was a derby with so much at stake what was served up had to be considered scrappy in the extreme. Dundee’s plans were hit when Konstadin Gadzhalov, one of their trio of centre-backs, suffered a shoulder injury and was eventually replaced by Thomas Konrad, who himself lasted just over 20 minutes before limping off.
Nicky Low was then sent on but was sacrificed five minutes into the second half following Bain’s red card. But by then Dundee were two goals to the good. Hemmings struck first after 34 minutes when he latched onto Paul McGowan’s deflected shot and squeezed the ball through keeper Eiji Kawashima’s legs. Gavin Gunning made a spirited attempt to clear but could only help the ball further into the net.
Dundee’s second, on the stroke of half-time, plunged the home supporters into despair. Not only did it have the feel of a possibly decisive goal, it was also scored at one of the worst times to concede – just before the interval. Greg Stewart timed his run to perfection as he seized on McGowan’s deftly hit through ball and then was aware enough to spot Hemmings at the back post.
His finish was unusual – his trailing leg applied the final touch – but the ball was in the net, which was all that mattered to the Dundee fans.
The strike looked set to provide the ointment to soothe decades of pain at the hands of their neighbours, then appearing to be edging ever closer to the Championship. The away fans spent the 15-minute interval savouring this prospect in song. But the game changed completely after Bain’s red card. United’s whole season could yet hinge on the moment the keeper felled Mckay. The striker still had to convert the kick, which he did. He and his team-mates had also to find an equaliser, and possibly a winner. While they left it late, they got the former, again through Mckay, who showed great determination at the far post after substitute Edward Ofere flicked on Gunning’s cross.
While clearly ecstatic to have equalised – Paatelainen celebrated to the maximum, drawing police officers to his side – United were within their rights to be slightly disappointed not to take all three points. Mitchell, however, performed superbly, stopping one Ofere header on the line before blocking another from Gunning at 2-2, denying Paatelainen another reason to strut in front of his decriers.