Marcus Haber handed Dundee another precious victory as the Dark Blues continued their revival under Neil McCann with a 1-0 win at Kilmarnock.
Dundee moved four points clear of the play-off position and to within two of yesterday’s opponents with this victory at Rugby Park, their second in as many matches under interim manager Neil McCann.
There were many who questioned the wisdom of appointing the TV pundit for the final five fixtures. McCann had no managerial experience and did not appear to be the firefighter the club required.
Yet he has unquestionably delivered. With the same players who had lost the final seven games of predecessor Paul Hartley’s reign, McCann has turned things round.
“I knew we’d come good if we kept going and matched Kilmarnock’s effort,” he said. “We did have to weather the storm a wee bit because we got deeper, but it’s everything we worked on – defending in the latter stages of a game, throwing bodies on the line.”
Both sides had pressing reasons for claiming all three points and, consequently, there was an urgency to the early exchanges.
Sean Longstaff hit a shot from the edge of the penalty area which Scott Bain, who saw it late, was relieved to keep out while, at the other end, Freddy Woodman instinctively stuck out his right hand to divert a netbound drive from Marcus Haber.
Kevin Gomis had the ball in the net for Dundee midway through the first half but the defender’s header from Kevin Holt’s free-kick was ruled out for offside.
The game was halted shortly afterwards while assistant referee Andrew McWilliam was physically sick over an advertising hoarding, at which point his superior, Craig Thomson, jokingly showed him a red card.
Dundee ought to have taken the lead in the 35th minute when Faissal El Bakhtaoui’s inviting cross was headed wastefully wide from six yards by the lumbering Haber.
But Haber finally broke the deadlock ten minutes after the break when he eluded his marker to send a firm header from Paul McGowan’s cross behind Woodman.
Greg Kiltie believed he had restored parity 12 minutes from time when he dived to get his head to Kris Boyd’s knockdown but Bain produced a superb reflex save to palm the ball away.
The goalkeepers had been the game’s best performers, a fact underlined 11 minutes from time when Dundee No.1 Bain spread himself to keep out a diving header from Kiltie and again, four minutes later, when he dived to his right to beat away a raking drive from Boyd which was heading inside his far post.
Even so, he was helpless in stoppage time when Gary Dicker headed a corner from Callum Roberts wide from six yards. It was the final opportunity of the afternoon and the Dundee players were given a rapturous reception by the sizeable travelling support.
“It was just one of those days,” said Killie caretaker Lee McCulloch. “We didn’t win second balls, weren’t aggressive enough and didn’t speak to each other.”