MIXU Paatelainen brought in a new goalkeeper for the New Year derby after Michal Szromnik had gifted Hearts a Christmas present in Dundee United’s previous game.
Dundee - 2
Hemmings 41; Ross 62
Dundee United - 1
Unfortunately Eiji Kawashima dropped a clanger against the city rivals and the Premiership’s bottom club were on their way to losing again.
Dens Park’s first-footers have now gone nine games without a win, seven of them defeats. The kindest thing you can say about United is they’re losing better now, for they performed well in parts yesterday, although there was a kind of dread inevitability about the Dark Blues coming out on top.
But a serious injury to Dundee skipper James McPake put a “dampener” on the result for Paul Hartley and his team. “We think James has dislocated his knee,” the manager said. “He’s gone straight to hospital and it doesn’t look good. He’ll be out for the season, maybe even longer. It was a real sickening blow and we’re thinking of him.”
Paatelainen couldn’t understand how his side had ended up with nothing. “I’ve said this a few times now: how did we lose the game? Quite unbelievable. Over the 90 minutes there was one team who passed the ball, who created goalscoring opportunities, who had a system that worried the opponents. We should have been 3-1 up at half-time. Dundee rode their luck. They launched it long and hoped their strikers could do something. We were dominant, totally in control.”
Studying Kawashima’s name on the team-sheet, one hack inquired: “How many goalkeepers have United played this season?” “None,” came the reply from one of the local correspondents. It’s been that kind of season for the Arabs, that kind of year. They began 2015 by thumping their great rivals 6-2 but then came the great unravelling.
The sodden section of the pitch which caused the postponement of Dundee’s midweek match was kept under tarpaulin until close to kick-off. There was a sense of anticipation before the big reveal, but when the covers came off the problem area looked okay. How long before the derby matched the moment for drama?
Not long. Gavin Gunning in the heavily criticised United defence was short with a pass-back which might have been held up by surface water and Kawashima had to be smart to close off Kane Hemmings. Then came the first big-talking point. John Rankin overhit the ball and McPake, just outside his box, slid in on him. The collision was X-rated and right away both sides signalled for help for the stricken defender as he writhed on the turf.
The incident divided the ground. “There was nothing malicious in it,” said Hartley. But initially the United end chanted for McPake to be sent off. The home fans were surprised, when the player eventually left on a stretcher, being clapped by both sets of players and fans, that the outcome was a United free-kick. Blair Spittal didn’t quibble, firing over the wall from 25 yards and into Scott Bain’s top right-hand corner.
Confidence spread through United and Billy McKay was a serious threat. Dundee looked shaken as word spread about the extent of McPake’s injury but Paul Dixon almost let in Hemmings, proving the old frailties were still there.
United sniffed a second. From one corner, Kevin Holt was required to make a goal-line clearance. After the next one, Bain squared up to the marauding McKay. The keeper saved desperately from John Rankin and Scott Fraser had a penalty claim rejected. But the backline couldn’t hold out. A Nicky Low free-kick was fumbled by a leaping Kawashima, who’d come well off his line. The ball fell to Hemmings who had a simple job.
In the second half United still looked more than decent going forward, but Dundee sensed there was something more for them and Nick Ross’s goal came after they’d put Kawashima under the severest pressure at corners. However the Japanese goalkeeper was blameless when Ross fired in his shot from the edge of the box, a deflection off Sean Dillon sending the ball into the opposite corner from his dive. The home side’s free-kick which led to the goal was hotly disputed by Paatelainen, so too the second yellow card for Guy Demel which reduced them to ten men for the closing stages.
“Listen,” he said, “there are two ways in football. You score goals, which we’re doing, and you stop the other side scoring. Opponents score every week against us. We can’t obtain clean sheets. I’m worried.”