An early goal by Craig Tanner gave Motherwell a 1-0 win at Dens Park tonight. Dundee failed to reproduce the form of the two recent good performances in Glasgow that had brought praise, though not points. It was a poor game, constantly interrupted by the referee’s whistle, but Motherwell had the better of the slugging match and earned their win.
Marcus Haber and Roarie Deacon returned to the starting eleven with Paul McGowan and A-Jay Leitch-Smith moving onto the bench. Well made four changes following their Betfred Cup semi-final victory over Rangers; Gael Bigirimana, Elliott Frear, Alex Fisher and Craig Tanner came in for Louis Moult, Chris Cadden and Andy Rose, who were all on the bench, and Allan Campbell.
Motherwell opened confidently and slickly, with no sign of the changes in midfield and attack disrupting their play. They opened the scoring after five minutes with a goal that was disappointingly simple from a Dee perspective. Ryan Bowman’s flick sent Craig TANNER in behind the Dundee centre backs and he calmly slipped the ball past Scott Bain.
Tanner came close five minutes later. A corner was played short and deep for him to strike a clean shot through a crowded goalmouth and Bain did well to beat it away. Next Bain made a reflex block to keep out Alex Fisher’s close range shot from Elliott Frear’s hard, low cross. A neat Well passing move through the middle ended with a low shot by Fisher from 18 yards that Bain saved well. At this point Motherwell were in charge, but Dundee gradually managed to curb Well’s danger, without offering much threat themselves.
Darren O’Dea took a knock in the face defending a free kick. He returned to the match after receiving treatment but was replaced by Kerr Waddell just after the half hour.
The Dark Blues were struggling to make their formation work. Marcus Haber and Sofien Moussa were rarely on the same wavelength, and never combined to any significant effect. Roarie Deacon was operating too far forward to have any influence on the midfield battle and Glen Kamara and Lewis Spence were swamped by Motherwell’s pressing. Well’s hard work and organisation ensured they had men in numbers to crowd out any Dundee player trying to hold the ball and make a pass. The Dark Blues simply couldn’t build any worthwhile moves.
After a tough opening half hour the Dee started to offer glimmers of hope in the later stages of the first half. Motherwell keeper Trevor Carson lost concentration and picked up a passback. Kevin Holt touched the resulting free kick to Roarie Deacon, whose shot beat the massed Motherwell defence but went the wrong side of the post.
Five minutes from the break Dundee at last put together a fluent, passing attack and it ended with Moussa heading Kevin Holt’s cross into the net. The celebrations were swiftly and cruelly ended by referee Stephen Finnie penalising the striker for a push that no-one else saw. Moussa and Hartley may have brushed against each other but the referee’s decision was remarkable. If the referee got that one right it would be almost impossible for a striker to win a header legally in a crowded goalmouth.
The highlight of the first half for the home fans came right at the end. A wonderful run by Jesse Curran sliced through the Motherwell midfield and opened up the defence. He laid the ball off for Moussa, who tried to curl the ball round Carson, but sent it straight to the keeper.
The second half brought a noticeable improvement. Paul McGowan came on for Roarie Deacon early in the half and this transformed the midfield battle. Dundee were able to settle on the ball and choose passes rather than simply unloading the ball quickly under pressure.
A-Jay Leitch-Smith’s arrival, replacing Sofien Moussa, brought more movement in attack, but for all Dundee’s possession there were no clear chances. The Dark Blues failed to find the right final balls into the penalty area. The Dee’s crossing might not have been poor, but it wasn’t good enough to open up a solid defence that was almost always first to the ball.
In the second half Motherwell couldn’t repeat the slick attacking of the their opening charge at Dundee, but they still had the better opportunities when they managed to drag the ball clear of the midfield skirmishing. Elliott Frear was a constant threat on the left and a pinpoint cross was missed by Dundee’s defence, and by Alex Fisher, who might have had a tap in.
Dundee left themselves open as they chased the equaliser and Motherwell should have exploited that towards the end. Louis Moult had come on for the last half hour and was involved in all Motherwell’s moments of late danger. A clever touch released Gael Bigirimana, but Bain spread himself to block. Moult went close with a 25 yard free kick that flicked off the ball and not far away from the post. Twice in injury time Motherwell broke, but first Chris Cadden failed to anticipate Moult’s pass, and then Moult shot too high.
There were glimpses, especially in the second half, of the passing game that Neil McCann is trying to instil in the players, but Dundee couldn’t turn these into sustained dominance or good chances for the strikers. Motherwell shook the Dark Blues with the intensity of their opening assault, and managed the game competently once Dundee sorted themselves out and stepped up to the physical battle. Well had more, and better chances, and their highly effective opening to the game meant there can be no complaints about the outcome. The outcome might have been different if an apparently legitimate goal had not been ruled out shortly before half time, but Dundee couldn’t overcome that dreadful spot of misfortune.
Dundee’s younger players have had little experience of battles in the Premiership like tonight’s match and it should certainly be a valuable, if tough, learning experience. They have the quality to bounce back quickly, and they will need to do so when Hamilton come calling on Saturday.
Dundee FC 3-4-1-2
Hendry, Meekings, O’Dea (c) (Waddell 31)
Curran, Kamara, Spence, Holt
Deacon (McGowan 53)
Moussa (Leitch-Smith 65), Haber
Unused subs: Parish (gk), O’Hara, Aurtenetxe, Wolters.
Booked: O’Dea (foul on Tanner), Deacon (foul on Tanner), Moussa (foul on McHugh).
Kipre, Hartley (Grimshaw 65), Dunne
Tait, Bigirimana, McHugh (c), Tanner (Moult 59), Frear
Fisher, Bowman (Cadden 53)
Unused subs: Griffiths (gk), Hammell, Rose, Petravicius.
Goal: Tanner (5).
Booked: McHugh (dissent), Bigirimana (foul on Kamara), Tait (timewasting).
Attendance: 5,254 (404 Well fans).
Referee: Stephen Finnie. Assistants: Graeme Leslie, Joseph Lawson. Fourth official: Nick Walsh.
Report: James Christie.