ON A day when the Ryder Cup was paraded at McDiarmid Park, it was worth taking a look at Dundee’s scorecard for the season. With eight played, Paul Hartley’s side have birdied four and bogeyed none. Any more of this and they’ll be taking on the Americans at Gleneagles later this month.
Scorers: Dundee - Konrad 26
This derby triumph, courtesy of a first-half goal by Thomas Konrad – which was, by the way, the least they deserved – provided the clearest demonstration yet that they are capable of doing much more than avoiding relegation. Not only are they up to fifth in the Premiership, just three points off the lead, they are its only unbeaten team.
It was as comfortable as 1-0 victories come. So watertight in defence that their goalkeeper, Kyle Letheren, had barely a save to make, they took care of the ball in midfield and allowed Gary Harkins, playing behind the excellent Greg Stewart, to pull the strings in attack with more than a little of his old swagger.
With their first win against St Johnstone in seven meetings, and their first in Perth since 2002, they showed that they are no longer content to live in the shadow of their Scottish Cup-winning neighbours.
“We are unbeatable,” chanted the travelling support in the north end of the stadium, a sentiment with which Hartley could not disagree.
“You see in football how quickly things can turn so you have to enjoy it,” said Hartley.
“It’s great when you are unbeaten. There’s a great spirit in the dressing room. It’s a new group of players, only put together three months ago, so they’ve come a long way in a short space of time.”
Dundee could hardly be in better heart for the real derby, against United at Dens next Sunday. “We’re only six games into the [league] season,” said Hartley. “There is much more to come from this group of players. They’re looking strong. They’re looking fit. I’m delighted with the way they are going about their business.”
St Johnstone, on the other hand, are about to have their resources stretched to the limit. Despite saying all week that he had a full complement of players to choose from, Tommy Wright had neither Steven MacLean nor Tam Scobbie in his squad. It turns out that both will be missing for lengthy periods.
MacLean will take at least a month to recover from an operation, which he will undergo on Tuesday, to remove a piece of floating bone from his knee. For Scobbie, the outlook is much worse, thanks to medial ligament damage sustained in training last Thursday.
Brian Graham started this one in MacLean’s place, but he struggled to take the ball in, making it harder for St Johnstone’s midfield to support.
In a dour opening quarter, there was little to speak of at either end save for some nice touches by Harkins and a back heel by Philip Roberts. That set up Paul McGinn’s cross, Frazer Wright’s poor clearance and a rash strike wide by Simon Ferry.
Then, with Dundee the more comfortable of the two sides, came a deserved opener. When Jim McAlister returned a half-cleared corner into the box, the ball broke to Konrad on the edge of the six-yard area. Although Harkins had a swing at it, the crucial contact was by the German defender, whose header crossed the line.
The home side tried to respond, but their supply to Graham lacked quality. Instead, it was Dundee who carried the threat, first when Harkins hit one over the bar, then when McAlister had a shot deflected wide after Roberts’ jinking run down the right.
After the interval, Dundee threatened to turn the screw. Following a foul on Harkins, he bent his free-kick round the wall, only to see Alan Mannus scramble it away. Paul McGowan also worked the St Johnstone goalkeeper with an angled shot after Steven Anderson was caught under Roberts’ cross.
Wright sought to plug the yawning gap between his striker and the midfield, but the introduction of Adam Morgan made little difference. Lee Croft, another substitute, injected urgency, but Dundee’s well-marshalled defence conceded no chances, never mind goals.
Wright, who had no complaints about the outcome, will now try to persuade his chairman that a replacement is needed for MacLean, especially if it emerges on Tuesday that the striker needs an extended spell on the sidelines.
“If it is months rather than weeks, we would certainly look to bring somebody in,” said the manager. “That would be important.”