Mark McGhee insists Dundee discord is not on him and keeping Brighton up shows what he can do
It was hard to avoid viewing this evidence of further degradation at Dens Park as a metaphor for the current situation at Dundee Football Club while sitting in a rapidly emptying stadium on Saturday.
The faulty wiring seemed to sum up everything that is wrong at the club at present: long-term neglect combined with an equally long-standing complaint about the lack of communication from the board room.
It reached a(nother) tipping point at the weekend as hundreds of fans filed out of the ground – down the crumbling steps, past the cash-only food kiosks – barely twenty minutes after kick-off with the hosts already 3-0 down against Livingston.
A later incident in the front row of the directors’ box, when manager Mark McGhee reacted as anyone would when a mobile phone was thrust in his face by a mischievous teenager at the final whistle of a 4-0 hammering, is a red herring. A lot else was going on more worthy of comment.
Indeed, who needs metaphors when an image as stark as a season ticket book being flung in the direction of McGhee and managing director John Nelms was captured by photographer Derek Gerrard.
The images of the angry fan pointing a finger towards the directors’ box, where McGhee will continue serving his on-going touchline ban against Hibs this evening, have been widely circulated on Twitter and elsewhere.
The snapshots are representative of wider discord. McGhee is doing his best to absorb the rancour. As he has already observed, he has thick skin. But it shouldn’t fall solely on the shoulders of one man barely two weeks in the building and who is still learning the names of his players.
“That didn’t just happen on Saturday,” said McGhee, with reference to the fans’ dismay against Livingston. “Please don’t land that on me. Whatever is going on with the supporters and how they are feeling came before Saturday.
“Of course we want everyone unified behind the team, but the team need to earn that. At the moment we have to tough it out. Take the stick, take the abuse, whatever the fans feel they’ve got to do.
“Get out there and be men and stand up to it and prove that they’re wrong with performances that win us games and eventually keep us up.”
The glare of early morning sunshine was so strong yesterday at Dens Park that McGhee had to shuffle towards the shade. He might be feeling the heat already but he is relishing the challenge of leading bottom-placed Dundee to survival.
Indeed, he has already informed players about what he rates as his greatest achievement as manager – keeping Brighton & Hove Albion in the Championship in 2004-05 despite a number of obstacles, including playing their home games at an athletics stadium.
"I have done lots of successful things in my career and the best performance I think I ever delivered was when I kept Brighton in the Championship when we were playing at the Withdean stadium with 5,000 people there against teams like West Ham and Leeds United,” he said.
"Our top goalscorer had seven goals. And we stayed up. I said to the players yesterday, regardless of what has gone before this season we can still have a party and still deserve it because, from this point on, the challenge is a worthy one.”
McGhee repeated his view, aired following the game against Livingston, that the home thrashing was symptomatic of problems pre-dating his and assistant Simon Rusk’s arrival.
Still, it must have been incredibly embarrassing for McGhee to have to witness such a capitulation on the weekend his old manager Sir Alex Ferguson was back in the North-East for a homecoming event attended by many of his former players.
McGhee was otherwise occupied but Gordon Strachan, his former Aberdeen teammate and now current Dens Park technical director, attended the statue unveiling ceremony before taking his place in the directors’ box against Livingston the following day. Strachan is understood to have helped calm things inside the bowels of the main stand following the mobile phone incident. McGhee has a right to feel livid about the lack of respect shown to him in that instance.
But he also knows there needs to be a rapid on-pitch improvement if he is to quell the acrimony.
His last words to his team tonight, communicated via Rusk of course since McGhee is barred from speaking to his players from 90 minutes before kick-off, will surely be a variation of ‘keep it tight, lads, for pity’s sake’. His last three first halves as a manager in Scotland, dating back to the 5-1 defeat by Dundee in his last game at Motherwell in 2017, have seen his teams concede 10 goals.
The hosts have not been helped by a mini-goalkeeper crisis on top of a Covid outbreak that has robbed them of the services of striker Zak Rudden and winger Luke McCowan.
Ian Lawlor has looked suspect in each of the four games he has played since replacing Adam Legzdins, who has been struck down with an infection. But the 27-year-old ‘keeper is assured of his place tonight by dint of there being no one to threaten his place in the side. No 3 ‘keeper Harry Sharp felt ill yesterday and was sent home. If he fails to make a swift recovery then Dundee will have no goalkeeper cover on the bench against Hibs.
McGhee can’t seem to catch a break at present. He won’t even be able to greet opposite number Shaun Maloney, who he knows from days as Scotland assistant manager, in the traditional manner at the dugout. “I’ll just have to wave down at him from the directors’ box,” he said.
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