Dundee have been forced to part with their top goalscorer and could be set to lose his partner in crime. The clubs outlook is a stark contrast from this time last year, as Craig Fowler writes
Kane Hemmings and Rory Loy. Two strikers; one window.
Expectations were raised. Dundee were not only going to cement their place among the elite of Scottish football but push on further. Though they were never going to get close to Celtic or, likely, Aberdeen, third place was up for grabs should Hearts struggle to adjust to life back in the top flight. They were the tipster’s pick to crash the party and fans believed in the hype. They’d finished sixth the year before, had recruited two highly-rated lower league strikers to bolster their squad and had momentum on their side. They also had a promising young manager who’d done a sterling job of guiding the club into the upper echelons in their first season back in the top flight. The future was bright. And yet, here we are, 12 months later and it all feels like a distant memory.
A widespread error in judgment it may have been, but Rory Loy was expected to have the bigger impact of the two new attackers. He’d enjoyed two strong seasons as the focal point of Falkirk’s attack, starring in a side that made a strong push for promotion before reaching the Scottish Cup final the following year. His refined style was supposed to make him a better fit to the top flight than his new team-mate. Loy not only scored goals, he made intelligent runs around the penalty area and could link fluidly with team-mates. Despite missing the final three months prior to the cup final through injury, and clearly not being match fit in the game itself, he still had a stellar showing against Inverness CT, the third strongest side in the country that season.
Hemmings was viewed as less subtle talent. He was about pace, power and finishing. Often a lower league star finds such tools blunted by the increased levels of competition in the top flight. Also, Hemmings had suffered through a frustrating year at Barnsley where he was mainly used as a winger. Some wondered whether it had stalled his career momentum after a cracking season at Cowdenbeath where he and Dundee team-mate Greg Stewart kept the Blue Brazil in the second tier pretty much by themselves.
After the first day of the season it looked as if these, and indeed all, expectations would be met. Dundee stuck four past Kilmarnock at Rugby Park and Loy netted twice, along with two from Greg Stewart, while Hemmings missed a sitter and posted the weakest performance of the new three-headed attacking monster. However, Loy would be absent for Dundee’s stirring 2-2 draw with Dundee United 10 days later and it would become a recurring theme of his first six months at Dens, as he continually picked up little strains and niggles. Nothing to keep him out for too long, but enough to knock him off stride.
Hemmings, meanwhile, after taking a while to get up to speed, soon found that he couldn’t stop scoring. He netted 14 goals in 12 games between December and February, on his way to 25 for the season. On his way to the quarter-century mark he proved himself more than just a poacher. Here was a player who could link well with team-mates better than many expected and even showed himself capable of winning the aerial battle with opposing defenders, something about his game that wasn’t advertised. In short, it was a perfect season, something which makes yesterday’s news that much harder to take.
Hemmings was one of the league’s best players. The team had two more of them in Scott Bain and Greg Stewart, and they didn’t even reach the top six. Hope that they could regroup, strengthen and reach those prior expectations have been dashed by what’s transpired this summer.
Gary Harkins has been alienated (or has alienated himself) from manager Paul Hartley and Stewart continues to be heavily linked with a move away from the club after rejecting a new contract. He was the one that was expected to go. Instead, fans were sideswiped by news of Hemmings’ departure; a transfer that came out of nowhere. The club gaining a modest fee for their top goalscorer likely won’t do much to placate Stewart’s intrigue, especially as the two of them were close friends, a fact that would have been one of the few bargaining chips in trying to persuade Stewart to stay.
It now looks like it’ll be Loy who’s left holding the baby. He’ll be tasked with appeasing a fan base that are looking at an altogether more bleak future than they could have possibly imagined last year. A future where Dundee follow their near-neighbours down a tumultuous path of selling their best assets and requiring new additions to replace more than just a shirt number. It certainly didn’t work for United. Hemmings has gone and Stewart only has one year left on his deal. He’ll go for free if nothing is sorted. It’s always a blow when a prized asset walks away for nothing, but can they afford to lose him now? Kane Hemmings and Greg Stewart?
Two strikers; one window.