It was emphatic in the end for Dundee as they stepped up their pursuit of surprise Betfred Cup Group A leaders East Fife, but at half-time the majority of the anxious home support would have clutched gratefully at any kind of win.
Trailing 1-2 to their part-time Championship opponents and showing some worrying defensive jitters, it took a big step up in attitude and urgency for Paul Hartley’s men to turn it around. That and an outstanding performance from Greg Stewart, who signalled that he will again be one to watch this season by ending this match with a hat-trick to his name.
“It was a really strong second-half performance. Some of goals were terrific, the movement and the middle to play was great,” enthused a delighted Hartley, while conceding that they have given away two poor goals in the opening 45 minutes. “We’re still settling in for the new season, but I think the second half shows what we’re capable of.”
For all the action that unfolded, this tie had a low-key start and a sparsely-filled Dens Park had a woozy atmosphere of a pre-season friendly about it. When the hosts gained an early lead through a swerving Stewart free-kick that experienced Dumbarton goalkeeper Mark Brown flapped at and missed, it seemed that this was going to be an easy summer afternoon workout the Dens Park side.
However, the early feel-good factor began to unravel as the visitors started to earn themselves a few set-pieces in and around the box. The dead-ball expertise of the much-travelled Ryan Stevenson proved to be the catalyst for the game being turned on its head within a seven-minute spell before half-time. A couple of curling corners from the former Hearts man allowed first Fraser Wright and then fellow centre back Gregor Buchanan profit from the ensuing melees to give the Sons a shock lead at the interval.
It needed a pretty urgent response from the hosts on the resumption to quell the discontent from their fans and in fairness it was almost immediate as Kane Hemmings levelled the score with a typically clinical finish in the 48th minute. It was a signal for a mini-siege on Brown’s goal, but he redeemed himself for his error for Dundee’s opener with some fine stops, including a stunning double-block from Rory Loy and Michael Duffy efforts.
The roof finally caved in on the Sons’ resistance, however, as their players’ legs tired. The Premiership side hit them with a rapid-fire double in 60 seconds. Stewart floated in another exquisite free-kick which Darren O’Dea sent full-pelt into the back of the net and then Stewart got his second of the afternoon with a calm finish after a cutback from Mark O’Hara.
The talismatic Stewart deservedly helped himself to the match ball as he stroked the ball beyond Brown once again and Hemmings then ensured that he wasn’t left entirely in the shade by bagging his second of the afternoon to make it six.