James McPake in play-off ploy as Dundee prepare for first two-legged tie since 2003 clash with Serie A side

James McPake might still only be 36, barely older than several of his players, but he’s become a wily operator in his short time as Dundee manager.

Dundee have not played a two-legged tie since 2003 against Perugia in the Uefa Cup

Knowing many of his players needed a refreshers’ course in the very specific dynamic of two-legged competition, McPake engineered a ‘two-legged’ league tie against Ayr United last season.

In the event, Dundee’s play-off hopes were ended when the season was suspended and then curtailed, but McPake hopes the experience will stand his side in good stead prior to this week’s Premiership play-off semi-final games against Raith Rovers.

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They did after all triumph 2-0 ‘on aggregate’ in this mini-experiment – drawing 0-0 at Ayr on the Saturday before goals from Kane Hemmings and on-loan winger Ollie Crankshaw gave Dundee a 2-0 win in a rearranged fixture four days later.

Veteran Raith Rovers defender Iain Davidson is a doubt for tomorrow's game v Dundee with a "fatigued hamstring" (Photo by Paul Devlin / SNS Group)

Dundee have not tasted a two-legged tie of any sort since a Uefa Cup first round encounter with Perugia in 2003. Jim Duffy’s side were eliminated 3-1 on aggregate after losing 2-1 at home and 1-0 in Umbria.

“It is new to me as a manager too, in a way,” said McPake. “We actually played about with it a bit last year as preparation for the play-offs. I don’t think many people picked up on it.

“We played Ayr United on the Saturday and then we played Ayr on the Tuesday again,” he explained. “Ayr wanted to play the following Tuesday but because we were the home team we got to decide. Why (did we go for the short turnaround)? Because we believed we had a bigger squad and I also wanted to give them a taste of what it would be like playing back-to-back.

“We knew we were getting into the play-offs because we were flying and going for second. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to play the play-offs because the season ended. But it was a wee dress rehearsal.”

If the semi-final outcome was based on Dundee’s last two games against Raith Rovers, it would be John McGlynn’s side who would be progressing to the final with an aggregate victory. Raith comprehensively defeated Dundee 3-1 at Stark’s Park in January before Dundee took a step nearer securing second place with a 2-1 win at Dens Park last month.

A repeat of these scorelines would suit McGlynn down to the ground although a big factor in the first game was the performance of Kai Kennedy, the on-loan Rangers winger who scored his side’s third that afternoon with a fine solo finish.

Kennedy has been back at his parent club this week for a scan on a hamstring problem that could mean he has already played his last game for Raith.

He missed Saturday’s 2-0 win over Dunfermline when Raith booked their semi-final place and has been ruled out of the two ties this week. McGlynn was not prepared to rule him out of the play-off final, if Raith get there.

Probably the main positive of Dundee being inactive since securing second place is the extra time granted to aid the recovery of Liam Fontaine and Jordan Marshall. Both are in the squad after picking up strains in the last weeks of the league campaign.

Raith, by contrast, are counting the cost of two additional games – 37-year-old centre-half Iain Davidson is a doubt with a “fatigued hamstring”. However, McGlynn was at least able to give a more upbeat health update with regards to himself and assistant Paul Smith, injured in a collision “with a two-tonne truck” as they celebrated Gozie Ugwu’s decisive second goal against Dunfermline.

The immovable object was goalkeeper coach David McGurn. The manager’s spectacles left a gash above his own eye as well as in Smith’s head. “You can hardly notice mine now, Paul’s …well, there was a little bit more damage done there,” said McGlynn. “We are both fine.”

This comedy mishap wasn’t going to get in the way of the serious business of playing psychological games with the opposition, who have not played a play-off game since a one-off clash with Cowdenbeath for the Eastern Division title in 1919. McGlynn believes Dundee, who were expected to give champions Hearts a run for their money, are shouldering the burden of expectation.

“They would have been expected to be here and they would be expected to beat Raith Rovers over two legs,” he said.

“I think that brings its own added pressure. We have to start here at Stark’s Park and try to make them a bit worried and threaten them and hopefully knock them off course a bit and try and take advantage of the pressure all being on them.”

McPake brought an emotional dimension to the proceedings on a day when both managers were available to preview tomorrow night’s game. Looking further ahead, the Dundee manager – eventually forced to give up the game after sustaining a serious knee injury in a challenge with John Rankin during a Dundee derby in January 2016 – was asked what it would mean to lead the club back into the top-flight.

“It would mean everything,” the former Hibs defender said. “Genuinely, it would be the biggest achievement of my footballing career.

“This would mean the world to me, particularly because of the way this club have looked after me and my family with my injury. I owe it to the fans because they backed me when I was a player. I love it here – it’s the longest time I’ve spent at a club. I am a Dundee fan now.

“I have real affection for this club,” he added. “They have given me a chance to become a coach and then a manager.

“Paul Hartley took a chance on me as a cripple basically and I also had one-and-a-half decent seasons as a player here. I went through my badges and now being manager, taking this club to the Premiership would be incredible. But we have Raith to take on first.”

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