WHAT a time to score a first goal for your club. Paul Heffernan wrote his name into recent Dundee derby history with the strike that secured Dundee’s first victory over their rivals since 2004.
Scorers: Dundee - Stewart (14), McPake (23), Heffernan (68); Dundee United - Ciftci (16 pen)
When even the intoxicating properties of a derby cannot rouse United, it proves there are problems to overcome at the club. These clashes are normally so profitable for the Tannadice side. However, not even this appointment on their fixture schedule could arrest a dreadful run of form that has now stretched to ten games without a victory and spells further anguish for manager Jackie McNamara.
Oddly, if United beat Hamilton Accies on Saturday, Dundee are guaranteed a top-six place however they do at St Johnstone.
While certainly overdue, this was a deserved victory for the home side and a sweet one for manager Paul Hartley, whose own Dundee derby experiences to date have been painful. In three previous games this season, Dundee had conceded 11 times against their rivals.
Inspired by man of the match Greg Stewart, who scored Dundee’s opener after a slip by United goalkeeper Radoslaw Cierzniak, the Dens men responded after quickly losing this lead to score twice more, through James McPake and then Heffernan.
The former Hibs striker’s close range effort after 68 minutes was greeted with a roar containing over a decade’s worth of frustration that split the night sky.
Heffernan was a surprise starter but worked hard to help his side regain the upper hand again after Nadir Cifti’s 14th minute penalty equaliser.
It began in fast and furious fashion, as all these games tend to do. The teams exchanged goals within a minute of each other, a spell of play that helped whip up further an already excitable crowd.
Frantic barely covers it. This was building up to be another very watchable clash in recent Dundee derby tradition. The old Archibald Leitch-designed main stand creaked in appreciation as the two old foes tore into each other with a rare energy.
The strange turnaround in fortunes since the last derby, when United destroyed Dundee 6-2, was reflected in the atmosphere; there was an air of anticipation from the Dundee sections, while a slight apprehension could be detected from the away sections.
The strife over their manager’s financial arrangements in regards to recent transfers was another factor in the unusually pessimistic outlook from United fans, so often used to triumphs at the home of their rivals. “I dinnae fancy this,” one was heard to say outside.
This view was backed-up by Dundee going ahead after 13 minutes.
Stewart at least managed to connect with the ball but even he would admit his left-footed shot was not one of his fiercest. But fortunately for the home fans, Dundee’s goalkeeper problems from the last derby were transferred to United. Although he conceded six goals on his debut, the unfortunate Arvid Schenk was never so blatantly at fault as Cierzniak, who somehow let Stewart’s moderately- paced shot slip through his body.
The Pole signalled his apologies to his team-mates as Dundee fans danced around him. Dundee ahead in a derby? It hasn’t happened in a while but their supporters were able to luxuriate in the sensation for only a minute or so.
Chris Erskine’s fierce shot from the edge of the box struck Kevin Thomson’s flailing elbow and while Dundee contested the award on a couple of issues – had the offence occurred inside the box, had it been intentional? – Ciftci planted the ball on the spot. Thomson was booked for the handball before Ciftci casually stroked the ball to the right of Scott Bain.
Cierzniak secured some redemption for his earlier mistake when brilliantly tipping a Stewart free-kick over the bar before Dundee edged ahead once more. Stewart was again a thorn in United’s side, this time providing an assist from a corner kick that was headed firmly into the net by McPake, whose intervention saw wild scenes break out in the home stands again.
It was impossible to see how the game could possibly maintain such rollicking pace and although Dundee finished the half marginally on top, there was a slight drop in intensity levels prior to the break. McNamara’s answer to United’s problems was to replace the toiling Anier with Blair Spittal at half-time.
Mario Bilate then replaced Connolly as United looked to up the ante. But he had barely stepped on to the pitch before the visitors’ task became tougher still.
Thomson played an intelligent ball wide to Stewart after Heffernan’s persistence in winning a challenge in the middle of the park. Stewart then made off down the left flank and by the time he had swept an inviting cross into the six yard-box Heffernan had reached the back post, where he gleefully drilled the ball into the net.
Stephen McGinn might have scored a fourth with a header but for Cierzniak’s flying save. The Pole was proving he had more than recovered from that earlier lapse, and this latest stop kept United in the game. But they could not find the inspiration required to pull back the deficit.
Dundee: Bain, P McGinn, McPake, Konrad, Dyer; McAlister (Davidson 74), McGowan, S McGinn, Thomson; Stewart (Harris 84), Heffernan (Clarkson 85). Subs not used: Letheren, Ferry, Gadzhalov, Wighton.
Dundee United: Cierzniak; McGowan, Dillon, Fojut, Dixon; Butcher, Rankin, Erskine, Connolly (Bilate 67); Ciftci, Anier (Spittal 45). Subs not used: Souttar, Paton, Telfer, Szromnik.
SCOTSMAN TABLET AND MOBILE APPS