The aesthetics of Dundee’s functional style are unlikely to win them many neutral admirers but, with pedigree, power and persistence in abundance, it would take a foolhardy soul to bet against them lifting the Championship title at the end of this season.
Scorer: Dundee - McAlister (90, 90 +2)
John Brown’s side, roared on by a magnificent 1900-strong support from Tayside, were far from fluent during a scrappy, attritional affair in Kirkcaldy but – as they have so many times this season – displayed the nous and know-how to grind out a pivotal 2-0 victory at the home of a promotion rival.
Their direct football was bearing little fruit against a well-drilled home back-line until Rovers captain Jason Thomson was sent off for a second bookable offence on 68 minutes, scything down Martin Boyle. For Thomson, who scored an own goal in the 3-0 defeat against Livingston last Saturday, the festive period has brought little good will.
That sparked Dundee into life and, after seeing Boyle and Gary Irvine pass up gilt-edged chances, Jim McAlister finally bundled home the opener in stoppage time after Ross Laidlaw flapped at a deep cross. The same man then added some gloss to the scoreline minutes later.
While the performance will not live long in the memory, the result sees the visitors open up a five-point lead at the summit of the Championship – and Brown makes no apologies for prioritising substance over style.
“Everyone made us favourites at the start of the season and, with the squad we have, we know that we are up there to be shot at,” said Brown.
“The most important thing is getting results and putting three points on the board. It is a massive result for us.”
In keeping with the nature of the encounter, the first opportunity came from a hopeful long ball into the box which Peter MacDonald made his own with a prodigious leap. His flick-on found Martin Boyle, but his strike partner’s point-blank header was well saved by Ross Laidlaw.
The hosts, who were struggling to find any semblance of fluency, did manage to escape their own territory long enough for Gordon Smith to fizz a low drive into the grateful arms of Kyle Letheren.
Following a clash with Reece Donaldson, after attempts to collect a deep cross, Letheren was able to walk unaided to the stretcher after a lengthy spell down before being transferred to hospital with suspected concussion.
The defining moment of the match then came as Boyle saw his run crudely halted by the otherwise excellent Thomson, leaving referee Don Robertson with little choice but to brandish a second yellow card, the defender having already been cautioned for a heavy tackle on Ryan Conroy 15 minutes earlier.
Irvine flashed a McAlister corner kick over the bar as Dundee attempted to make their numerical advantage count, before a goal-bound Boyle shot from close range was blocked on the line by Dougie Hill.
But McAlister was on hand to stab the ball into the net from inside the box after Laidlaw had dropped a simple cross at the feet of the grateful winger.
Donaldson shot over the bar as Raith chased an equaliser but, with bodies being thrown forward in search of parity, McAlister profited on the break, surging forward unchecked before rounding Laidlaw to make the game safe.
Raith Rovers: Laidlaw; Thomson, Hill, Donaldson, Booth; Callachan (Anderson 89), Moon, Fox, Cardle; Smith (Ellis 70), Elliot.
Dundee: Letheren (Gibson 59); Irvine, Benedictus, Gallagher, Lockwood; McAlister, Rae, McBride, Conroy; Boyle (Wighton 85), MacDonald.