Neil McCann seemed to win himself a stay of execution last week with the victory over Hamilton Accies, but there was little in this performance against an in-form Kilmarnock to suggest it was a turning point in Dundee’s dismal start to the 2018-19 campaign as pressure continues to mount on the embattled Dens Park manager.
The hosts will count themselves unlucky to be undone by very soft penalty called for a perceived foul on Jordan Jones, Eamonn Brophy netting the winner. But barring a bright opening 13 minutes, they were by far the poorer side on the day and looked to have no way to cut Kilmarnock open once they fell behind.
“I’m absolutely livid,” fumed McCann over the penalty call. “I’ve watched it, there’s no contact. It’s a joke of a decision at a pivotal moment. It’s a disgrace. I’m finding it very hard to control my emotions.
“The defining point for me is that he’s told boys on my team that he’s taken a dive, so that’s pretty tough to take.”
McCann’s men often begin games well but typically fail to score and soon fall out of it. The only difference here was that they did manage to make their brief pressure count. Stuart Findlay failed to properly deal with a cross from the left, allowing Adil Nabi to pick up the loose ball, take a couple of touches and fire into the bottom corner.
The Englishman of Pakistani descent was involved again moments later as he slid a perfectly-weighted ball for Elton Ngwatala running through. Had the midfielder taken the ball in stride he’d have had a free strike at goal. Instead, his poor touch allowed Jamie MacDonald to race from his line and beat him to the ball.
They were quickly made to rue that missed opportunity when the visitors equalised in bizarre fashion. Jones had already threatened with a half-volley hit high over the bar when he picked up the ball on the right of the penalty box. His drilled shot deflected off the foot of Andy Boyle, which caused it to loop and spin over Elliott Parish and into the back of the net.
From there Kilmarnock were in full control of the game for the rest of the half, though they only managed one clear-cut chance, as Scott Boyd sent a volley over the bar from eight yards.
There was to be no significant improvement in performance from the home side after the break as Killie continued their dominance. Parish had to be alert to beat away a Brophy free-kick, but could do nothing to stop the same player scoring from 12 yards. That came after Jones wriggled around Cammy Kerr and hit the deck. Dundee were incensed with the decision but Brophy stayed cool to fire it into the bottom corner.
“Sacked in the morning,” sang the away fans as their team looked to heap further misery on McCann. A second penalty award looked to signal the end of this contest after Chris Burke was fouled by Calvin Miller. But on a return to his old stomping ground, Stewart saw his spot-kick saved by Parish. The attacker was given the responsibility after Brophy was subbed off, though his insistence on taking the penalty angered team-mate Aaron Tshibola who originally grabbed the ball. The midfielder, himself, was soon subbed off.
“I spoke about it in the dressing room after the game,” said Killie boss Steve Clarke. “Sometimes it puts an extra pressure on the penalty taker.”
Dundee’s best chance of the half, if you can call it that, came through a long diagonal which almost caught Kenny Miller running in behind. Just like their previous opportunity, though, way back in the 13th minute, MacDonald came racing from his line to slide the ball clear.