Alan Pattullo: James McPake exit timing surprises, but who'd second-guess Dundee's next move?

In the week when a docuseries charting the extraordinary life of former director Giovanni di Stefano has begun on Sky, trust Dundee to issue a reminder of their seemingly endless capacity for inviting chaos.

A new manager will be in place for Sunday’s trip to face Celtic. It won’t be Kevin Thomson, neither is it Jack Ross. It won’t be Tommy Wright. It isn't Derek Adams. It’s not even Jocky Scott’s latest turn to step back into the hot seat.

Mark McGhee’s name was rapidly gaining traction in the hours after James McPake’s departure was confirmed in a statement posted on the club’s website. The new manager will be confirmed on Thursday. The players' day off has been cancelled.

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It is understood that whoever takes over will operate on a short-term contract until the end of the season. It is mission keep-Dundee-up. Managing director John Nelms and Gordon Strachan, who is still Technical Director at Dens Park following an advisory stint at Celtic, had clearly lost faith in McPake’s ability to achieve this aim.

A new man will be in charge at Dundee after James McPake's dismissal. (Photo by Mark Scates / SNS Group)

To say yesterday’s decision came out of the blue is not strictly accurate. Dissatisfaction with McPake has been bubbling over within a section of the support for some time. But the timing following successive wins, including a fine comeback triumph just a week earlier against Hearts at Tynecastle, undoubtedly caught people off guard. The guessing game with regards to those in the running to replace McPake began immediately.

If there’s one thing Dundee have proved champions at in recent times, it’s keeping their cards close to their chest. Nelms has an obsessive need for secrecy to the extent he does not even enter dialogue with some of the club’s most ardent followers.

The Dee4Life Trust recently went public with their frustrations at the lack of information from Dundee about recent issues, including the future of Dens Park. If Nelms doesn’t want to liaise with supporters who help fund Dundee, what hope does anyone else have of second-guessing a club with a reputation for doing things a little differently?

Even McPake was blindsided by the decision. He took training as normal on Wednesday as he began formulating the shape and tactics ahead of this weekend’s game.

Dundee manager James McPake looks frustrated during a cinch Premiership match between Dundee and Ross County the Kilmac Stadium at Dens Park, on February 05, 2022, in Dundee, Scotland. (Photo by Mark Scates / SNS Group)

The spirit in the camp was good following Monday’s night’s last 16 win over Peterhead. Even though the performance was far from perfect, Dundee have struggled enough times on such assignments to know not to treat a 3-0 win at a difficult venue with indifference.

McPake was called in to see Nelms shortly after returning to Dens from training and given the news that his eight-year association the club was over. A new man was coming in.

McPake will have conflicting emotions. He knows the club stood by him as he recovered from a devastating knee injury in 2016 that eventually saw him retire. He knows Nelms gave him a chance to become manager when others might have looked elsewhere. He was young and inexperienced but repaid this faith by securing a somewhat unexpected promotion last season with a convincing play-off win over Kilmarnock.

He is also aware of Nelms’ propensity to make bafflingly timed, even cruel, decisions. He was at the club as a youth coach when Neil McCann was left to dangle for nine days during an international break following a 2-1 defeat to Kilmarnock and when Dundee were sitting just two points from safety. He was sacked four days before the season resumed. Successor Jim McIntyre led Dundee down.

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