History against Dundee as McCann bids to end winless run

Dundee manager Neil McCann is under pressure to lift his side off the foot of the Premiership table. Picture: SNS
Dundee manager Neil McCann is under pressure to lift his side off the foot of the Premiership table. Picture: SNS
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Dundee’s win when Rangers last visited Dens Park was their first at home over the Ibrox side since 1992. One must dig back slightly further, to the mid-1980s, to find successive home victories over tonight’s opponents at Dens Park.

Dundee’s current predicament at the foot of the Premiership doesn’t provide much encouragement that they can create more history.

Last February’s 2-1 win was a long time coming – not since the days of Simon Stainrod, and a distinctive “Sampdoria-style” strip, had Dundee celebrated a home win over the Ibrox side.

In the time since Rangers last played in the city the Pedro Caixinha era has come and gone. It means Graeme Murty is back in charge at a venue where he raised eyebrows by doing a headstand on the sidelines as Rangers toiled to come back from two goals down. Dundee held out for a result that was Paul Hartley’s penultimate victory as Dundee manager, and his last at Dens Park, before he was sacked after a run of seven successive defeats.

Successor Neil McCann is already fielding questions about his future following a start to the season in which promising performances have failed to produce a satisfactory number of points.

Dundee stopped another slide last weekend with a 0-0 draw against Kilmarnock following a run of five losses.

But a dispute with former first-choice goalkeeper Scott Bain rumbles on in the background. Lewis Spence, who has established himself in the side since making a surprise league debut in the 4-1 defeat at Rangers in September, is out until after the winter break after undergoing an operation on an ankle ligament complaint this week.

Dundee’s confidence is further undermined by a centre-half shortage. Skipper Darren O’Dea is suspended and Kerr Waddell is again ruled out with a badly cut finger. The absence of both tonight means Julen Etxabeguren is named in the squad for the first time since being sidelined with a serious Achilles injury in March.

Rangers have their own problems of course. When it comes to making history, Hamilton’s win last weekend at Ibrox – their first there in the league since the 1920s – was on a different scale.

McCann is aware the visitors do not want for motivation.

“Any club expecting to win the majority of their games means Graeme will be expecting a reaction, clearly,” said McCann, a popular former Ibrox winger.

Not that his previous ties will prevent him trying to ensure the home side reap maximum reward.

McCann would claim Dundee’s needs – as well as his own – are greater ahead of a weekend when rivals could potentially put the Dens Park side under further pressure at the bottom.

But he can’t be distracted by what others might do, and neither can he afford to be worried about Rangers’ own intention to get back on track.

“I couldn’t tell you [what they are thinking],” said McCann. “I am not interested in talking about Rangers to be honest. I don’t know about their state of mind.

“What I do know is that they will be looking to make amends after their defeat at Ibrox. As any Rangers player will tell you they know that’s not accepted by the management team or the supporters.”

“The Rangers game provides us with an opportunity,” he added. “There’s nothing like games under the lights.”

Josh Meekings, who came off the bench last week against Kilmarnock to help shore up the defence after O’Dea’s red card, should return to partner Jack Hendry at the back. But Etxabeguren could feature at some point from the bench.

“Big Jules has been back now for a number of weeks playing for the 20s,” said McCann. “I think he is fully fit, he feels confident about the injury. He is coming back from a nasty Achilles injury. It can take a bit of time. Having missed a lot of football he now feels he is fully recovered and he has been waiting for his chance.

“It opens the door for Jules to come back in.”

“Without being ignorant, I did not see a great deal of him,” added McCann. “You don’t actually see a player until you are working with him. Because he was out when I came in last season I did not really get to know him as a player but got to know him as a person a wee bit.

“He looks good, comfortable in possession, and so it’s good we can call upon him.”

Much will hinge on Dundee’s defence, with Elliot Parish, Bain’s replacement, keeping his first clean sheet – and Dundee’s first in the league this season – last Saturday. The Dens Park side have not kept successive clean sheets in the league since February 2016.

“Elliot is a good, experienced goalkeeper who has done really well so far,” said Jack Hendry, Dundee’s highly-rated centre-half. “It’s part of football that other players come into the team.

“He communicates well and will be happy to have a clean sheet so soon. He’s a good talker, has played at good clubs with good players before so he’s a decent addition to the team.”