A FIRST-HALF penalty from Greg Stewart decided the match in Dundee’s favour as the Dens Park side ran out 1-0 winners over Kilmarnock.
Scorers: Dundee - Stewart (19 pen)
Dundee maintained their steady improvement in form at Dens last night with victory over Kilmarnock, whose own struggles continue. With only two victories since October, Rugby Park manager Allan Johnston was hopeful of taking at least something from this clash to appease fans’ disenchantment.
However, not even handing Alexei Eremenko the full 90 minutes could stop the visitors slipping to a third consecutive defeat with Greg Stewart’s 18th-minute penalty proving just enough to keep the points at Dens Park.
Dundee are now just three points away from the top six. This was the latest step in their recovery after a poor run of eight games without a league victory. For Kilmarnock, sadly, it is a different story. A mini revival over Christmas has not helped ease the pressure on Johnston, who saw Dundee leapfrog his side into seventh place last night.
Kilmarnock were inactive at the weekend and so were looking to make up for a disappointing defeat to ten-man Inverness 11 days earlier, when Johnston made the unusual admission that he had erred by subbing off Eremenko during the second half.
Eremenko was back in harness here and pitched into an intriguing battle with Gary Harkins, who some might describe as the Scottish version of the talented Finn. No one will ever question their ability. However, both players’ influence is sometimes restricted by lack of pace and physical conditioning. But, on a cold night at Dens, they are the types who lure people out of their homes to watch football.
This game was all the better for them both being involved. Both will count themselves unfortunate not to have made it on to the scoresheet, Harkins in particular.
His race was run by the 63rd minute, by which time he had led some of his former team-mates on a merry dance. He had also nearly broken the crossbar with a strike from the edge of the box that came down and hit the ground, before rebounding off goalkeeper Craig Samson’s back for a corner.
Had that effort after 55 minutes gone in it would have killed off the visitors’ chances. But Kilmarnock struggled on until the end in their attempt to secure an equaliser, and were frustrated by some questionable decisions from the referee,
In the clash of the enigmatic midfield titans, it was Eremenko who shone first. He provided the assist for the first clear opportunity of the match after 16 minutes.
The Finn’s corner was bulleted towards goal by Lee Ashcroft but goalkeeper Scott Bain was a match for the header. Kilmarnock, in a day-glo orange-coloured strip, were certainly the brighter team in the opening stages.
They will rue not taking their opportunities. Dundee were gifted an opportunity to open the scoring when Jim McAlister slalomed into the box after 17 minutes following a neat lay-off from Harkins. Manuel Pascali made a rash sliding challenge and Dallas quickly pointed to the spot, with little or no
complaint from the penalised Kilmarnock player.
Luka Tankulic, who has scored only one league goal in a stop-start season for him personally, was keen to take the kick. As when Kevin Mirallas grabbed the ball for Everton against West Bromwich Albion on Monday, the German made a brief bid for glory.
But, before an incident such as the one dominating the English football agenda at the start of the week could develop, sense prevailed.
Dundee’s leading scorer Stewart took charge. He rifled a fine finish into the net that sent goalkeeper Samson the wrong way and gave him an 11th goal of a very impressive first season in full-time football. It was also a good way to celebrate signing a new contract with Dundee last week.
Eremenko almost levelled for Kilmarnock on the half-hour mark with an effort that looked set to search out the top corner. Bain, however, was again the equal of it, saving brilliantly high to his right. Pascali was one of four players booked in an enjoyable first half after he body-checked Harkins, who was beginning to become the most dominant figure in the game.
Dundee continued to control the game in the second half.
Harkins came close to scoring the goal his efforts deserved when his drive bashed off the bar and was so nearly deflected in off Samson, who was unaware of the ball’s whereabouts.
Another chance went a-begging for Dundee when McAlister failed to steer in Tankulic’s cut-back. Without Harkins, who had been replaced by David Clarkson shortly after the hour mark, Dundee began to sit ever deeper, dangerously so.
The arrival of young substitute Craig Wighton helped to that end and allowed Dundee to see out the victory, while handing Johnston yet further problems.