Dundee 2 (Hemmings 77, Wighton 90+3)
Dundee United 1 (Ofere 54)
Second tier football next season has been an inevitability for some time for Mixu Paatelainen’s side but that could not soften the blow of the manner in which their fate was sealed.
This was a night when schadenfreude wore dark blue as Dundee supporters revelled in the misery of rivals who have lorded it over them for so long.
Dens Park, the venue for United’s title clinching win in 1983, provided a suitably dramatic backdrop to their first relegation in 21 years.
It had looked as if they could avoid such a scenario when Nigerian striker Edward Ofere put them ahead nine minutes into the second half.
But on a night when only victory would keep their flickering hopes of survival alive, Kane Hemmings’ 26th goal of the season drew Dundee level before Craig Wighton plundered a winner for the hosts in the third minute of stoppage time.
There was an almost fevered relish among the home support for an occasion which offered them the prospect of derby day bragging rights unlike any which have gone before in the history of this fixture.
The short walk from Tannadice must have been filled with a sense of dread from the United players as their calamitous season faced the most humiliating of denouements.
The least the visiting fans could hope for was a display of defiant commitment from their team, although Paul Dixon’s crunching fourth minute foul on Greg Stewart was just a little too adrenaline-fuelled and earned him a booking which placed him under pressure for the rest of the evening.
Paatelainen opted to relegate top scorer Billy McKay to the bench, preferring Ofere up front with a supporting trio of Scott Fraser, Simon Murray and Blair Spittal behind him.
But although there was an early sniff of a chance for Murray, who saw a shot blocked by Darren O’Dea, it was Dundee who dominated possession in a horribly tense and scrappy first half.
Hemmings was almost inevitably the first home player to pose a threat but drove his shot straight at Eiji Kawashima in the United goal after being set up by Nick Ross.
Dundee were forced into a change after just 16 minutes when Paul McGowan succumbed to what looked like a dislocated shoulder sustained in a challenge from John Rankin.
He was replaced by Julen Etxabeguren who almost made an immediate impact when he rose to meet a Gary Harkins free-kick and saw his header cleared off the line by Sean Dillon.
United struggled to secure any worthwhile possession in midfield, often leaving Ofere an isolated and frustrated figure.
For all of their territorial dominance, however, Dundee found it difficult to create many clear-cut openings.
But they should have gone in front five minutes before half-time when Stewart and Ross combined sharply to play in Hemmings on the edge of the penalty area. It was the kind of chance Dundee’s top scorer has been converting with real authority all season but he blazed this one wildly over the top.
There was then a rare glimpse of goal for United at the other end when a Spittal corner picked out Mark Durnan, only for the big defender to glance his header off target.
The teams traded penalty appeals at the start of the second half, both of them not without merit, but referee Willie Collum was unmoved by both Kosta Gadzhalov’s tramp on Murray’s toes and Ofere’s clumsy barge in the back of O’Dea.
There was suddenly a better tempo and rhythm to play and it was United who tapped into it to make their 54th minute breakthrough. Stewart was caught in possession for Dundee, allowing Murray to break down the left. He fed Rankin who in turn shuttled the ball into the path of Ofere who showed good composure to slot a low shot beyond Scott Bain.
United were firmly in the ascendancy for the first time in the match and Ofere came close to doubling their lead when he raced onto a Kevin Knoyle through ball, only to be denied by a fine save from Bain.
It proved to be a hugely significant contribution from the Dundee ‘keeper as his team equalised just two minutes later. United were outmuscled at a Harkins corner, Etxabeguren powering a header towards goal which was touched home from close range by Hemmings.
Substitute Chris Erskine came close to regaining the lead for United but it was Wighton who had the final word when he drove a low shot through a forest of legs and beyond Kawashima.
Teams with substitutions:-
DUNDEE (4-3-3): Bain, McGinn, Gadzhalov, O’Dea, Holt; Ross, McGowan (Etxabeguren 16), Harkins; Stewart, Hemmings, Wighton. Subs not used: Mitchell, Konrad, Meggat, Arturo, Colquhoun, Curran.
DUNDEE UNITED (4-2-3-1): Kawashima, Knoyle, Durnan, Dillon, Dixon; Paton, Rankin; Fraser (Dow 62), Murray (Erskine 73), Spittal (McKay 86); Ofere. Subs not used: Zwick, Morris, Anier, Donaldson.