PRE-MATCH talk centred around David Clarkson and his chance to equal a Dundee club record held since 1920 of scoring in nine consecutive games. It is no surprise, however, that Inverness were the opponents who were finally able to put the extraordinary run to a halt with this proficient and gutsy performance that eventually earned them all three points.
Scorers: Dundee - Stewart 21; Inverness: Mckay 55, Christie 88
The away side were far from being at their best, but held together by togetherness and an almost flawless defensive performance, they managed to keep themselves in the game when other teams would have folded under first-half pressure.
Dundee could have dominated after Greg Stewart’s opener, but Inverness remained disciplined and didn’t allow another clear cut opportunity until Billy Mckay levelled things up ten minutes into the second-half, setting the scene for substitute Ryan Christie to win the match with a terrific piece of skill in the dying moments.
The victory takes the Highland club back into second place, finishing the weekend with the second best defensive record and seeing talisman Mckay find the back of the net for the third league game in succession.
“I thought the winner was coming because of the quality we’ve got coming off the bench,” boasted manager John Hughes. “We’ve got some great technical footballers that we can bring on to the park, and I felt the substitutes swung it in our favour.
“They were the better team first-half; we were the better team second-half. I don’t think it was a great game. I don’t think we played particularly well. But when we’re not playing our best and still digging out results it shows there’s a bit of spirit about them.”
Inverness would have every right to feel the pre-match hype surrounding Clarkson’s record chase was a little discourteous to their own accomplishments this season. After all, most pundits predicted they’d finish this campaign outside of the top six after Hughes made the unorthodox decision of coaching up the players already at his disposal instead of trying to strengthen through the transfer market.
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They certainly started the first ten minutes with a tempo which suggested they wanted to prove a point. Knocking the ball about with confidence, they’ll feel unlucky not to have taken the lead when Greg Tansey’s corner was sent crashing off the crossbar by the head of Josh Meekings.
That is not to say they were completely dominant, however, as Dundee looked dangerous on a couple of attacks before opening the scoring thanks to a tremendous set-piece delivery from Gary Harkins.
More than 40 yards from goal, the midfielder managed to whip the ball into the six-yard area with so much pace and bend that it froze keeper Dean Brill on the goal-line and allowed Greg Stewart to slide the ball into the net at the back post.
Inverness lost their swagger, allowing Dundee to control possession, but the next clear-cut opportunity still came the way of the visitors. Marley Watkins rose highest inside the six-yard box, but the winger badly misjudged the flight of the ball as it brushed his forehead on its way across goal.
Dundee will look back on the equaliser with some regret. A seemingly innocuous situation saw the ball bounce around the box following a couple of botched clearance attempts before eventually dropping in front of Mckay. The striker was alert and managed to get a vital touch before the advancing Scott Bain arrived, and the ball dribbled into the net at the far corner.
“First-half we were excellent, but second-half I thought we stepped off it a little bit and conceded two poor goals,” admitted Dundee boss Paul Hartley. “We didn’t defend well at either of the goals. I felt Inverness didn’t have to work hard enough to get them.”
They may not have had to work hard to get it, but it was difficult to grudge Christie’s winner considering the quality of the finish. The 19-year-old drifted on to the end of a low cross from Watkins and flicked a first-time effort with his right boot which rolled into the far corner with pin-point accuracy.
With little hope of the hosts snatching a late leveller the small yet vocal travelling support added insult to injury by chanting “15 points and you f***ed it up” – a reference to the 2009/10 First Division title race between the two sides.
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