DUNDEE United re-asserted their authority so far as a single street goes but failed in the mission to maintain their hopes of qualifying for Europe on a bittersweet afternoon for the hosts.
At one point they looked to be again targeting a record margin of victory in a derby with the added bonus of leap-frogging St Johnstone to keep their European chances alive. But a win for the Perth club in Aberdeen dashed United’s hopes of finishing fourth and they also had to be satisfied with just the three goals on this occasion at home against Dundee.
A goalkeeper’s misfortune again lay at the heart of this derby. Having seen his team start brightly, Dundee’s Kyle Letheren made a hash of clearing a through ball to give Nadir Ciftci the chance to open the scoring that the striker could not miss.
Further strikes by Ciftci, from the penalty spot, and then Blair Spittal at the start of the second-half raised the prospect of another embarrassing margin of defeat for Dundee, following their collapse at the same ground on New Year’s day.
Arvid Schenk endured a nightmare first (and final) game for Dundee on that occasion. Wherever he is now, he will know how Letheren must have felt on the Welsh goalkeeper’s last appearance for the club.
“We want six,” the home fans were chanting as their team went two ahead just after the half-hour mark, a reference to the 1 January defeat that sparked such a change in fortunes for the two sides. It was just not in the direction that might have been expected, considering United were the victors by such a handsome margin of 6-2. Dundee thereafter strung together a series of results that helped establish them in the top six. By contrast, United’s season unstitched following the sale of Gary Mackay-Steven and Stuart Armstrong. But here the home side helped heal some of the wounds that have developed in a trying spell since the beginning of February. This victory ended up being as comprehensive as it sounds and was deserved for the clinical way in which United feasted on Dundee’s defensive inadequacies.
The visitors managed to last a full eight minutes before conceding on this occasion, having somehow contrived to fall behind within 33 seconds on their last trip to Tannadice.
Dundee had looked full of purpose so Letheren’s slip as he attempted to clear the danger posed by the nearby Ciftci following Chris Erskine’s through ball was all the more frustrating. The goalkeeper never looked entirely confident as he sought to deal with the situation. However, few expected him to hand Ciftci quite so easy a chance to score by stumbling as he attempted to clear.
The grounded ’keeper could only watch as Ciftci took a touch before stroking the ball into an empty net beneath the noses of the exultant fans in the Eddie Thompson stand. It was, more than one person noted, a poorer error than any of those made by the unfortunate Schenk in his one and only appearance for Dundee in January.
But then it isn’t only Dundee goalkeepers who have suffered in the Dundee derby this season. Rado Cierzniak endured agony in the last meeting at Dens when he allowed Greg Stewart’s shot to slip through his body and nestle in the net. But the United ’keeper made a fine instinctive stop from Stephen McGinn in the 28th minute to deny Dundee an equaliser after some fine work by Stewart on the left flank.
Three minutes later, United were awarded a penalty after Thomas Konrad made an injudicious challenge from behind on Ciftci. The Turkish striker picked himself up to convert his 16th goal of the season.
Konrad, who had been booked before the penalty incident, did not re-appear after half-time, replaced by Kostadin Gadzhalov. But Dundee’s defensive troubles continued when John Rankin made the most of a gaping hole to play in Spittal, who clipped in a neat finish past Letheren. Only 50 minutes had elapsed and it could have been much worse for Dundee, who were relieved to see Ryan McGowan’s header crash off the bar after 73 minutes.
The 3-1 win over their rivals in April was a rare moment of joy for the Dundee fans in the context of derbies this season. Here they had to witness another sorry episode in these recent cross-street chronicles as, long before the final whistle, the United fans started to cry “Olé” each time one of their players touched the ball.
Ciftci even executed a ‘Rabona’, when the kicking leg is wrapped around the back of the standing leg, at one point – from which McGowan very nearly volleyed in – as an end-of-season affair became an exhibition one, for one side at least. Dundee tried hard to give their fans something to cheer but the closest they came to scoring was a well-struck Stewart free kick that flew just past Cierzniak’s near post.
Tempers rose towards the end following a couple of incidents. However, with news of St Johnstone’s lead filtering through from Aberdeen, it was a less boisterous conclusion than might have been anticipated. But the decibel-level was raised when Cierzniak was replaced by Michal Szromnik in order to give the first-choice ’keeper, who has decided to look for fresh challenges elsewhere, a rousing send-off after three years at the club.
Admirably, the majority of the Dundee fans stayed on until the end, perhaps motivated by the thought that for all these trying moments against their rivals, the season has been a better one than they could have imagined. For United, however, it ended not quite as well as once had been hoped.
Dundee Utd: Cierzniak (Szromnik 92), Dillon, Fojut, Souttar, Dixon, Spittal (Coote 75), Rankin, McGowan, Erskine, Ciftci, Muirhead (Connolly 68). Subs not used: Butcher, Telfer, Smith, Anier. Booked: Fojut, Souttar, Dixon. Goals: Ciftci 8’, 31’ (pen); Spittal 50’.
Dundee: Letheren, J McGinn, McPake, Konrad (Gadzhalov 45), Irvine, McGowan, McAlister, Ferry (Harkins 60), Stewart, S McGinn (Wighton 67), Tankulic. Subs not used: Black, Brodie, Colquhoun. Booked: J McGinn, McPake, Konrad, McAlister.
Ref. B Madden