Dundee v Hearts: Hartley and Neilson go toe-to-toe

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IS THERE a game in Britain this weekend that stands as a greater testimony to the importance of football fans than today’s meeting between Dundee and Hearts? Neither club might still be in existence were it not for those supporters who rallied round when the need to do so became most dire.

Exactly why it was all worth the effort will be spelled out today as the teams run out at Dens Park in front of what is expected to be a near-full house for this first clash between the sides since April 2013.

Hearts striker Juanma caught the eye last week with a goalscoring start to the Premiership campaign. Picture: SNS

Hearts striker Juanma caught the eye last week with a goalscoring start to the Premiership campaign. Picture: SNS

A lot of water has flowed under the bridge for Hearts since then, with the Tynecastle club going into and then battling to exit administration.

Dundee have, of course, endured this plight on two occasions in the last dozen years. They overcame the challenge each time thanks to the input from fans, who, like their counterparts at Hearts, put their hands deep in their pockets to ensure they might again experience days such as these, when everything and anything seems possible.

Early season optimism overfloweth in both camps. Dundee sit in an unaccustomed position at the top of the Premiership after one match following their 4-0 win over Kilmarnock at Rugby Park. Newly promoted Hearts, meanwhile, also scored four in their opening game against St Johnstone. However, the fact they also conceded three is why they sit just below Dundee on goal difference. There has been much to excite fans of both teams after early glimpses of their new-look line-ups.

Dundee and Hearts were both happy to see new centre-forwards score on their league debuts – Rory Loy grabbed two for Dundee, while Juanma, who joined from Greek club Kalloni, got off the mark for Hearts six days ago.

Some of their players are definitely unknown to us. Going on last week, they have good quality in there

Paul Hartley

Where Hearts and Dundee currently differ just now is in their approach to the transfer market. Head coach Robbie Neilson and director of football Craig Levein have shifted their sights abroad while Paul Hartley, the Dundee manager, is putting his faith in those who have caught his eye in the Scottish lower divisions.

Loy was signed from Falkirk while another likely to feature today is Kevin Holt, who arrived in the summer from Queen of the South. Greg Stewart, who also scored twice last weekend, was signed from Cowdenbeath. It was his successful first season in the top flight that has helped convince Hartley to persist with this policy.

“Everyone is talking about him [Stewart] now,” said Hartley. “A year or so ago maybe people were a little bit sceptical: ‘why are they bringing in him from Cowdenbeath?’ We have shown there are definitely players in that market. And we will continue to use that market.

“It’s something I spoke to Robbie Neilson about when we were doing our Pro-Licence [coaching badge] together,” Hartley added. “They [Hearts] felt they were going a different route with the players they were bringing in. Maybe they felt they were getting more value for money and that the British market was a little more expensive for them.

Greg Stewart was on target for Dundee last week. Picture: SNS

Greg Stewart was on target for Dundee last week. Picture: SNS

“Some of their players are definitely unknown to us. But we have tried to look at them closely over the last couple of weeks to see what they’re like. Going on last week’s game they have some good quality in there.”

Where Hearts hope to emulate Dundee is by securing a top-six place in their first campaign back in the Premiership, as the Dens Park club were able to do last season.

“We’ve said all along that our aim this season is to get top six,” said Neilson yesterday. “Paul did that last year after bringing Dundee up. That’s something we hope we can follow. He’s got a good squad and I watched them last week against Kilmarnock. I thought they were fantastic. They have good footballers and good attacking options. This is a difficult one for us.

“I get on really well with Paul,” Neilson added. “He was here for four or five years as a player and I see him at games all the time.

“He’s like me, always going to games. He was at Aberdeen [v Kairat Almaty] on Thursday night. I’m pleased for him that he’s doing well.”

Another link between the clubs is Scott Bain, the Dundee goalkeeper who has revealed he shares a house with a Hearts-supporting friend. Bain refused to divulge where his own loyalties lie in his hometown of Edinburgh, replying, with a smile, that he grew up following “Edinburgh City – or maybe it was Spartans”.

He was not going to take any chances and admitted he would be cooking his own food last night on the eve of the game, just to be sure to avoid any culinary sabotage.

“My flatmate Gaz Anderson is a Hearts fan and he will be coming up to the game,” he said. “I’ll be getting him tickets so maybe he will be a Dundee fan for the day. We normally take turns with the cooking but he will be on the cleaning duties on Friday night.

“Hopefully, he will have nothing to wind me up about on Saturday. We have been mates since we were at school but I might have to move out after the game, either way. He might lock me out if we win! However, I am sure he will be hoping I do well.”

Things should be similarly cordial between the opposing supporters, whatever the outcome. Albert Kidd is a long time ago. Both sets of fans are aware the right to play each other again in such high-profile occasions has been hard earned.