Dundee 1 - 3 St Johnstone: St Johnstone’s revival continues

FOR two clubs with plenty in common, the contrast could hardly have been more stark. From different ends of Tayside, in different shades of blue, there were times at Dens Park yesterday when it looked as though they were from different planets.


Dundee - Conroy 21 pen

St Johnstone - Tade 15; Craig 27; MacLean 51

Goals by Gregory Tade, Liam Craig and Steven MacLean were the reward for a St Johnstone side who were as strong, streetwise and

ruthless as their opponents were weak, wasteful and naive. In truth, it was men against boys.

A dislocated elbow for the

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excellent MacLean was the only disappointment for Steve Lomas, the St Johnstone manager, who has fairly turned his team around. After a worrying start to the season, the Perth side have won four consecutive matches, and are sixth in the league, just three points off the top. Asked to explain the transformation, he quipped: “A magic wand.”

He might want to think about lending it to Barry Smith, the Dundee manager, whose team are four points adrift at the bottom. A first-half equaliser from the penalty spot, by Ryan Conroy, gave them a fighting chance, but when they fell behind for a second time shortly after, they all but threw in the towel.

With no points at home all season, and seven defeats in their last eight matches, it is starting to look as though Dundee, pitifully short in key areas, especially central defence, are out of their depth. “It is the first time I have been critical of the players,” said Smith. “We have made mistakes in previous games that have cost us, but today we were just beaten by a better team.”

This was a sweet one for St Johnstone. It is not the biggest Tayside derby, but for the Perth club, without a city rival of their own, it matters a lot. A sizeable travelling support made it along for a match that was competitive for about half an hour. In that time, there were three goals, a player taken off injured and a touchline lecture for Smith from the referee, Alan Muir.

It cannot be easy for the Dundee manager, watching this team, who are willing enough, but hopelessly soft at the back. They had the benefit of a gusting wind in the first half, and might have got themselves an early foothold when Martin Boyle skinned Dave Mackay, but the striker could find only the side net with his shot.

Their early enthusiasm was misleading. Every time St Johnstone broke up the pitch, the home defence looked terrified. When Iain Davidson, deputising in the middle, inexplicably allowed a through ball to find Tade, the latter’s cross was almost turned into his own net by Lewis Toshney. Two minutes later, Dundee’s static back four permitted Craig to collect possession with a clever angled run. This time, when the ball was delivered into the penalty area, Tade slammed it home.

Dundee were good enough to respond, and even dragged themselves level, when a penalty was given for Frazer Wright’s high-booted challenge on Boyle. From the spot, Conroy sent Alan Mannus the wrong way. When Wright then had another go at Boyle just outside the box, Conroy’s dipping free-kick was tipped over by the Saints goalkeeper.

All of which was quickly rendered pointless by St Johnstone’s second. Garry Miller’s cross should not have got past the front post, never mind the back one, where Craig lashed a left-foot shot into the rigging. It was a lethal finish that more or less ended the game as a contest.

When Paddy Cregg was

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stretchered off, to be replaced by Nigel Hasselbaink, it only increased St Johnstone’s attacking options. Just before half-time, the substitute had a crisp shot saved by Rab Douglas. Just after it, they scored their third, this time from a corner kick. Craig’s cross, followed by Wright’s header, presented MacLean with a gift at the back post, which he duly accepted.

Now, with the wind at their back, St Johnstone were well and truly in charge. Another Craig corner set up another free header, this time directed over the bar by Tade. Then MacLean latched on to a hoofed clearance, only to have his shot saved. By the time Tade was thumping an angled drive off the base of Douglas’s left-hand post, the visiting support were merrily greeting every pass with the obligatory “ole”.

Tade, in fact, could have had a hat-trick. Near the end, another of his piercing drives was cleared off the line by Jim McAlister, by which time half of the home support had already gone home. It’ll be a long season...