Derbies are different and this one verged on bonkers. Dundee finally secured their first victory of the season – it was well merited, but what a nerve-shredding closing 15 minutes they and everyone else in Dens Park had to endure.
Cruising along two goals to good thanks to a double from A-Jay Leitch-Smith, the game went off the scale as we had three penalties, a sending-off and a disallowed goal all thrown into the mix before three points were confirmed for Neil McCann’s side.
Playing throughout with a sprightly determination that confounded any notion that morale might be flagging in their camp, Dundee found inspiration from the pace and opportunism of Leitch-Smith, currently on loan from Shrewsbury Town.
“I’ve said that our performances this season haven’t given us the reward we deserve,” observed McCann, “I challenged the players to continue to believe in what we are doing in training. I’m so happy and proud of them today because they stood up to a good St Johnstone team and put in some brilliant performances.”
Such was the endeavour shown by McCann’s players that they actually made their previously undefeated old rivals from up the Tay look very ordinary for much of this game. This was evident almost from the off with the normally safe hands of Alan Mannus in the St Johnstone goal fumbling a soft header from Kevin Holt and Leitch-Smith gleefully capitalised to put Dundee ahead inside 10 minutes.
McCann’s men defended with fierce, if sometimes unconvincing, tenacity and broke forward with real purpose whenever they got the chance. The visitors might have knocked the ball around with greater assurance but they made little in the way of chances aside from a stinging effort from Michael O’Halloran which was blocked by the impressive Scott Bain.
The home side, who continued to play hit and run to good effect, looked to have all but wrapped it up as Leitch-Smith pounced again in the box and rifled a shot into the roof of the net to make it 2-0.
Far from ushering in an uneventful closing 20 minutes however, this proved to be the starting gun on what was to be a compelling cocktail of mayhem and madness.
It all kicked off with St Johnstone getting a penalty out of nothing as substitute Graham Cummins latched on to a drifting ball only to be impeded by Bain inside the box. Craig slammed home the penalty and then, incredibly, it looked as though the scores had been levelled three minutes later as Steven Anderson sent a looping header into the net. However the far side assistant raised his flag.
Barely had we drawn breath than Dundee were awarded a penalty when that Leitch-Smith toppled over under attention from Richard Foster.
Sofien Moussa restored Dundee’s two goal advantage from the spot but in one more barmy twist, Darren O’Dea hauled Anderson to the floor to not only concede yet another penalty, but also get himself sent off for a second yellow card. Craig again dispatched it beyond Bain and with five minutes added time there were anxious exhortations aplenty in Dens Park.
St Johnstone manager Tommy Wright was not a happy man afterwards, critical of the performance of his players and even more so that of match referee Alan Muir, citing Anderson’s disallowed goal and the penalty to Dundee as pivotal.
He hit out: “It changes the game – all Ando’s done is get up early and to compound it, to go up the pitch and award a penalty for that is beyond me.”