Having failed by the slenderest of margins to pip Ross County to a top-six place last season, this was a victory rich in significance as well as pleasure for the Dark Blue travelling contingent in Dingwall. Significant, too, in the way victory was executed.
Rory Loy, with supreme timing, stepped into the Kane Hemmings-shaped hole in Paul Hartley’s plans netting twice and creating the move that led to the all-important third. With influential frontman Greg Stewart also injured this was a dramatic reminder that one man’s departure is another’s opportunity.
Hartley still fears the possibility of losing Stewart next week, given Birmingham City’s enduring interest after two failed bids, but this was the kind of powerful individual and all-round team display to soothe those niggling anxieties.
But with County unable to recover from a late first-half penalty, the Dark Blues’ faithful were singing in the pelting Dingwall rain by full-time.
“Greg Stewart got injured late on Thursday and we thought he was going to be okay, but didn’t train,” Hartley said, dispelling conspiracy theories surrounding the striker’s absence. “We’d expect him to be back Monday or Tuesday… hopefully. There are no bids. Do we expect them? Possibly. It could happen. We’ve rejected a couple of bids and we’ll just have to wait and see. I wouldn’t like to put a figure on it. For me, he’s priceless and I want to keep him here. Will they (Birmingham City) come back in? I don’t know.”
Faissal El Bakhtaoui, the recent Blackburn Rovers’ trialist, only made the Dundee bench after completing his move from Dunfermline to Dens Park on a three-year deal.
County were first to seriously threaten after nine minutes, with Jay McEveley, the former Blackburn Rovers and Sheffield United defender, finding Brian Graham in the box from the left. Graham, though, got the ball tangled between his feet at the vital moment.
Four minutes later, Dundee were ahead. Danny Williams, the former Inverness midfielder, threaded the excellent Mark O’Hara into the right side of the box. O’Hara was sharp enough to clip the ball across under pressure and found Loy free to stab the ball past Scott Fox from a few yards.
The hosts lost midfielder Martin Woods to injury after only 26 minutes, before Loy, at his most dangerous combining with O’Hara, saw a low strike brush the outside of the left-hand post with keeper Fox at full-stretch.
But Loy’s moment was to come again, four minutes before the break. Michael Duffy’s corner flashed across the County box from the left and referee Bobby Madden adjudged McEveley to have shoved O’Hara to earth. Loy stepped up and sent Fox the wrong way from the spot to double the lead.
The home temptation was to over-commit – and the impulse cost County dearly after 62 minutes. On the break, Loy’s long ball found lively Celtic loanee Duffy down the right with only midfielder Ian McShane holding fort. The Dens’ attacker easily found Paul McGowan unmarked to squeeze a shot under Fox’s body and into the net.
Michael Gardyne, County’s best performer, had a fine strike tipped around the post by Scott Bain, and the corner led to the home side’s consolation goal.
From Ian McShane’s right-side corner, Liam Boyce drove hard at goal and the outstretched toe of substitute Craig Curran diverted the ball past Bain to give County a faint glimmer of hope.
But the mini-revival came to nothing in the lashing rain.
“The penalty was a big moment,” Jim McIntyre, the County manager, stressed. “I have watched it again and there is contact, so I don’t have any complaints.
“The biggest thing for me, though, will be the consistency [from referees].”