Last month we took in our first Dundee Derby at Tannadice. We are back in the City of Discovery, this time though we are along the road to Dens Park, for Dundee’s home fixture versus Hearts, as they continue their battle to avoid relegation.
Like so many of the SPL stadiums, this is one I was last at in 1998, before the kids were born! Since that time a lot of refurbishment has taken place at Dens, with all the terracing being replaced behind the goals with new all seated stands.
Dundee are a club who I have never really had an opinion on. My memories of them as a kid are of their 1980s strip made by Admiral, and players who graced the jersey like Bobby Geddes, Cammy Fraser, Ian Ferguson, George McGeachie and Jim Duffy. They had some great strikers in their time later that decade, with free scoring players like Tommy Coyne, Keith Wright and Billy Dodds.
I always loved listening to long term Dundee supporter and Radio Clyde reporter, Dick Donnelly referring to the ‘Dark Blues’ in his distinctive tone.
The club have had two spells in administration since the early Millennium, but have managed to come out at the other end on each occasion. The club finished runners up to Ross County in Division 1 last season and were thrust into the SPL late in the summer to replace Rangers, who had been liquidated.
They were ill prepared for the step up and did not start the season well. By Christmas the team were adrift at the bottom of the table and in early February, Manager, Barry Smith was relieved of his duties. He had done an exceptionally decent job, in very trying circumstances, guiding a young and depleted side through the second spell in administration, but the board felt it was time for change.
The weather was surprisingly great and we had a pretty decent journey getting here, though I damaged an alloy trying to park the car on a side street! The kerb was high, I rushed it, school boy error and lesson learned!
There was a good vibe around the stadium as we wandered round three of the stands and browse in the club shop. Interim boss, John Brown had been given the job on a permanent basis, twenty four hours earlier and the club had also announced that tickets for this game would be half price. This was a coup for me, as instead of costing £40 for me to get in with the two boys it was only £20. It meant that I could put some of that saving back to the club by buying a couple of things from the official shop.
The tickets we had were for the South Stand, known locally as ‘The Derry’. The queues to get in were long and slow and I managed to keep it together, having initially been advised by a young female on the turnstiles that we were in the wrong stand! We eventually did get in and had pretty decent seats to be fair, giving you a good view of both ends of the pitch.
Although the team are anchored at the bottom of the table, momentum has gathered among the Dundee faithful in recent weeks, as optimism about staying in the SPL continues to grow. While the ‘Dark Blues’ have been in good form and picking up points, second bottom St Mirren have been in free fall since their League Cup win against Hearts last month.
One of Dundee’s most consistent performers in the last few weeks has been goalkeeper, Steve Simonsen. Having come into a struggling side, under new management and replacing a club legend in Rab Douglas, he has been in excellent form. In front of him, the defence has a good blend of experience, youth and pace with players like Matt Lockwood, Kyle Benedictus, Brian Easton and Lewis Toshney who is on loan from Celtic.
Unfortunately, Gary Harkins, who has been probably the key player in the Dundee midfield recently, was suspended for this game. John Brown could still call upon the likes of Jim McAlister, Kevin McBride and Iain Davidson. Up front, Carl Finnigan started, having missed a lot of the season through injury and he was partnered by John Baird. On the bench, there were options with Colin Nish and new signing from Dunfermline, Andy Barrowman.
For the visitors, well they continue to make more headlines for events happening off the park. The new Hearts Manager, Gary Locke has done a good job of keeping the players focused on their own individual responsibilities, which is playing football.
Jamie MacDonald continues to improve in goal for Hearts, and he was protected by Darren Barr, Andy Webster, Kevin McHattie and Jamie Hamill, who has missed most of the season through injury. The main man for them in the middle of the park is Ryan Stevenson, along with youngsters, Jamie Walker, Dylan McGowan and Jason Holt. The front men selected were, John Sutton and Michael Ngoo, who is on loan from Liverpool until the end of the season.
Neither side had the upper hand in the early stages of the game and it did not get flowing due to a number of petty fouls committed by both sets of players. With just under ten minutes played, it was Hearts who had the first real effort on goal, when Jamie Hamill’s low effort from twenty yards out was well held by Simonsen.
Just after a quarter of an hour, Andy Webster was in possession of the ball for Hearts on the halfway line. He did appear to dwell on the ball and was dispossessed by Finnigan. Webster felt he was fouled, the referee, John Beaton did not agree and as Finnigan broke away, Webster hauled him to the ground. The Hearts stopper picked up the first yellow card of the game for his troubles and it was to prove significant.
From the resulting free kick, Kyle Benedictus’ vicious effort was heading into MacDonald’s top left hand corner, but he managed to produce a superb save, turning the ball away for a corner. Less than fifteen minutes after receiving his first booking, Andy Webster was involved in another challenge that earned him his second caution and an early bath.
In a similar position to the first incident, he crashed right through the back of Finnigan as they both contested a high ball. Both players received treatment and when Webster was back on his feet, Beaton issued him with the yellow and red cards, leaving Hearts to play more than an hour of the game with ten men. As Webster trudged off the park, he got some friendly chants from the home fans due to him being an ex Dundee United player!
Sometimes these kind of flash points can make a game interesting, but I find it has the opposite effect in the modern game. Hearts sacrificed Michael Ngoo as they reshuffled their side and basically set the team out not to concede a goal, which tends to be brutal to watch.
Hearts fans then started goading the Dundee fans with chants of ‘going down’ before retaliating with ‘Hearts are going bust’ and ‘Albert Kidd’ which is in reference to their much publicised financial issues and losing the league title at Dens Park in May 1986.
Dundee forced a couple of corners ten minutes before the break which were taken by Jim McAlister. From the first one, the Hearts defence could only clear the ball to the edge of the eighteen yard box. John Baird managed to get a decent shot in that was deflected wide. McAlister himself then had a tame header at goal, from a cross on the right, which was comfortably saved by Jamie MacDonald.
The last action of the first forty five minutes was a half chance for Hearts, as Jamie Hamill hit another long range effort which went well wide. As much as Dundee maybe had the upper hand, they were lacking a bit of creativity and they had to win to maintain any chance of staying up. The Dundee fans were still in good spirits, more so when news filtered through from Easter Road that Hibernian were leading against St Mirren.
Both Managers made changes during and just after the break. Dundee replaced Matt Lockwood with Ryan Conroy, while Hearts introduced Dale Carrick for Jamie Walker. Less than five minutes into the restart it was Dundee who nearly took the lead from an inswinging corner by Conroy. The ball was met by the head of Brian Easton, whose header crashed off the face of the bar before being cleared.
Hearts had a couple of breaks up the field and although the Dundee defence looked slightly nervous at times, they never really threatened. I am unsure if the referee, John Beaton was trying to almost even things up, but he went through a strange ten minute spell where he seemed to penalise Dundee players for the merest of fouls.
Just after the hour mark, Dundee made a double change a couple of minutes apart. Colin Nish and Nicky Riley came on for Iain Davidson and John Baird respectively. I think the home side were looking at utilising Riley’s trickery and Nish’s height as they went in search of a winning goal.
With a quarter of an hour left to play, Finnigan shot high over the bar for Dundee, before Ryan Conroy nearly scored with a long range drive. Having collected the ball on the right from a throw in, he strangely moved the ball over to his weaker right foot, before seeing is powerful shot go just wide of the post.
This should have been a warning to Hearts as Conroy was instigating most of Dundee’s attacks. As the news came through that St Mirren were now winning against Hibernian, a winner was absolutely essential now for the hosts. With ten minutes remaining they were provided with a decent opportunity, when Stevenson fouled McAlister some thirty yards from goal.
The distance was not ideal, but Ryan Conroy stepped up and went for pure power. Keeping his shot low, the ball took a slight nick off the Hearts wall, but it was enough to deceive Jamie MacDonald and the ball ended up in the net. Dens Park erupted, some fans from the South Stand were on the pitch, as stewards attempted to get them off and you could see how much that goal meant to the supporters.
The remaining minutes were filled with Dundee trying to keep possession and run down the clock. A roar then went up as news came through that Hibernian had equalised, with the scorer none other than former Dens wonder kid, Leigh Griffiths with another goal to make it 3-3.
With two minutes left, the home side were reduced to ten men themselves as Nicky Riley saw red, following an altercation with McHattie next to the far side corner flag. It looked petulant but Riley lifted his hands and left John Beaton with no alternative but to issue a red card.
After four minutes of stoppage time, the game ended, with the three points staying on Tayside. St Mirren dropped points, meaning the survival dream remains a possibility and Dundee live to fight another day. We got out promptly and were on our way home, after a short hold up at traffic lights on the way out of town.
The stadium has two ends that are old fashioned and traditional looking, with both areas behind the goal being rebuilt over the last decade.
The North Stand is the Main Stand which has a distinguished design and blue roof. It looks as if there is a kink in the middle of its structure, similar to the Main Stand at Wolverhampton Wanderers, Molineux stadium. There are also quite a few supporting pillars, which may obscure part of you view. The dug outs are situated at the front of this stand, with the players tunnel in the corner, next to the away end which is the Bob Shankly Stand.
The South Stand is like an old terrace which has had bucket seats fitted and is where we sat for this game. This is where the hardcore support go, I am reliably informed! We were parked up on a street only a few minutes walk away from the Main Stand. Three ends of the ground are all on the same level, however, to get into the South Stand you need to walk down a steep hill that runs behind the Bobby Cox Stand, which is the home end. It is a busy road at the bottom of the hill and is where the turnstiles are located.
The newer stands are single tiered and hold approximately 3,000 each. Today, Dens Park has an all seated capacity of just over 12,000. Similar to Tannadice along the road, there are remains of the old terrace and stairways at either side of the South Stand, which gives it a bit of nostalgia. I think so anyway!
This proved to be a very enjoyable day out in all aspects, from the journey time, pre match wander, the game itself and the drive home. We also caught a break with the discounted ticket prices for this particular match. Dens Park is a decent football venue, with the locals and the staff that we spoke to inside and outside the ground very friendly and helpful. It is definitely more of an SPL stadium than that of a Division 1 side.