It was seven years ago yesterday when he united Dundee fans in a way rarely seen before or since.
Neil McCann’s winner five minutes into injury time against Raith Rovers after returning from retirement to help his old side’s cause has entered local legend.
But that was then. On Saturday McCann was embroiled in a spat with a supporter sitting in the main stand as Dundee fell to yet another early home Scottish Cup exit, this time at the hands of Motherwell.
The Dundee manager understands the fans’ frustrations spilling over. In fact, he applauds them for the way they have, for the most part, bought into his methods this season. But what he cannot accept is abuse directed at players trying to do their best. Sofien Moussa, Dundee’s centre-forward, ensured another frustrating day in front of goal in the 2-0 weekend defeat. The Tunisian is one of a few who are targets for upset fans.
McCann, pictured, understands why some supporters are angry – he describes himself as a Dundee fan. But he has appealed to those who need to vent abuse to direct it at him rather than the players, some of whom might be battling confidence issues.
“When I get stick, I don’t care,” he said yesterday. “I will take stick all day long and I will bite back, because it is in my nature. But I will support my team. I will never turn on my team. I will ask for more and I will change it.
“But I will support them because they are trying to do the best they can do.
“Generally the support has been brilliant,” he added. “There will always be one who goes over the score that I take umbrage to. I don’t care, I will fight my case.
“If I have a fan shouting ‘I don’t want to watch this’, well go downstairs then,” he continued. “We have enough fans in this stadium that are supporting us. I understand when people say fans are allowed to voice their opinion when they are paying their money – yes, but I want them to support us.
“Players are not trying to make mistakes. Players are not built to go out and try not to perform. They lack confidence sometimes. They need support. We are at a level where I am trying to make players better. It is my job to make players better. Sometimes we make mistakes, me included.
“But what I need from them (supporters) is support. As yet, at 43 years old, and I’ve been in the game since I was 16,I have never seen any negativity from the stands being helpful for a player. But I understand it. That’s what I want to stress – I understand their frustration. But be supportive for the 90 minutes. A game can change just like that.
“Every fan wants success for their club. I am no different. I am a fan. I am a Dundee fan. It’s why I took this job. This place holds a special place for me. It is why I want to be successful here. It won’t happen overnight.”
Dundee lost Jack Hendry and Scott Allan, two players who are key to how McCann wants his team to play, on the last day of the transfer window. They have since been beaten in successive matches at home.
McCann hopes Dundee can lift themselves tonight back on league duty against Kilmarnock.
They could not have been handed a tougher challenge than to visit a side who have won their last six home matches.
The Rugby Park setting, where Dundee drew 1-1 earlier this season and won 1-0 under McCann towards the end of the last campaign, might provide some respite for a side currently suffering at home. Dundee have failed to win any of their last five outings at Dens, losing four of them.
But McCann is confident Dundee can arrest this slide and re-ignite their top-six ambitions. The prospect of Steven Caulker making his debut is one reason why McCann was upbeat yesterday.
It is understood the former Tottenham and Liverpool defender is in line to come into the team after his surprise signing last week.
“When you bring someone like Steven in, people have got excited and I hope he can make a big impact,” said McCann, who added the player did not feel quite ready to feature against Motherwell at the weekend. “He’s settled in really well with the squad.”