For the second successive year Dundee gave the fans an early start to the Hogmanay celebrations with victory over local rivals St Johnstone. The Dee won 2-0 in Perth in a match bookended by the two goals. Marcus Haber scored the first after three minutes and A-Jay Leitch-Smith made it two in added time at the end. Saints had to play for 70 minutes with 10 men following Richard Foster’s red card and Dundee took advantage of their numerical superiority to dominate most of the match.
Both clubs made three changes from the post-Christmas games. Kerr Waddell, Scott Allan and Marcus Haber started for the Dee. Josh Meekings and Sofien Moussa were injured and Faissal El Bakhtaoui was on the bench. Darren O’Dea, who played most of the match against Celtic as a substitute was unavailable because of illness. Saints brought in Murray Davidson, Blair Alston and Stefan Scougall in the place of Chris Millar, Liam Craig and Steven MacLean.
The Dark Blues could hardly have made a better start. Saints had barely ventured into the Dundee half by the time Dundee took the lead after three minutes. Paul McGowan chipped the ball forward and A-Jay Leitch-Smith nodded on for Marcus HABER, who held off his marker, turned and shot through Zander Clark’s legs to score.
For the rest of the first half Dundee were in charge and Saints struggled to get into the match. Mark O’Hara showed neat footwork to make room but sent his shot from 18 yards to close to Clark. Saints worked a couple of neat moves down the Dee left, but their final ball was never good enough to break down the Dundee defence.
The game was already heading Dundee’s way, but it turned firmly in their favour after St Johnstone right back Richard Foster was sent off for a late, high foul on Paul McGowan. Saints responded by moving Blair Alston to right back and pulling Stefan Scougall back into the midfield. Dundee continued to dominate the midfield and Denny Johnstone was left isolated up front. Scott Allan was operating in the hole behind the two strikers and his menacing presence kept pulling Saints’ defence out of shape.
For most of the first half Dundee were content to keep the ball and pass the ball around in the Saints half. Shortly before half time the Dee came close to a second. A beautiful cross-field pass by Jon Aurtenetxe found Haber, whose shot was parried up into the air by Clark. The ball fell behind the keeper on the goal line but Steven Anderson and Joe Shaughnessy combined to scramble it clear before Leitch-Smith could score.
St Johnstone changed their formation at half time, sending on Liam Gordon and Brian Easton for Scott Tanser and Denny Johnstone. They lined up 3-5-1, with Michael O’Halloran as the sole striker. This transformed the home side, making them far more competitive in midfield, and more secure at the back. However, playing with 10 men they struggled to get men forward quickly enough to support O’Halloran.
Saints came desperately close to an equaliser seven minutes after the restart. Kerr Waddell was booked for fouling Alston 20 yards from goal. Stefan Scougall’s free kick seemed on its way in, but came back off the post for Liam Gordon to hammer in a shot from 15 yards that Parish turned superbly over the bar. This was another crucial turning point. St Johnstone never came anywhere near as close again as Dundee turned the screw in midfield, holding the ball and frustrating the home side.
Julen Etxabeguren came on for his first action of the season, replacing Kerr Waddell and preventing Saints playing on the young defender after his booking. The other centre back Jack Hendry made an entertaining run through St Johnstone from his own half and his shot from 18 yards wasn’t far wide.
Faissal El Bakhtaoui replaced Scott Allan with 20 minutes to go and proved a thorough nuisance to Saints defence with his buzzing around. A lovely move the length of the field ended with El Bakhtaoui’s 20 yard shot being pushed round the post by Clark for a corner. He was next to have a go, intercepting the ball on the half way line and sending his shot zipping a foot over the bar. El Bakhtaoui went closer when he took Haber’s knock down to hit the outside of the post from the edgfe of the penalty area.
At last, a minute into injury time Dundee made the points safe. St Johnstone gave the ball away again in their desperation to get forward. El Bakhtaoui passed to A-Jay LEITCH-SMITH, who ran on to the 18 yard line and slotted the ball around Clark before milking the applause from the delighted travelling support behind the goal.
In the light of results elsewhere this was a hugely important win and will send the players into the mid-season break in a positive mood. Dundee deserved their win over the whole match. They were totally dominant in the first half. Although they let their standards slips for spells in the second half, when Saints came back strongly, they always had more composure and used the ball much better than their hosts.
Dundee have rightly taken criticism for the lack of goals by the strikers. Today the two strikers each scored and with the defence taking a clean sheet, thanks to a helpful goalpost and an outstanding follow up save by Elliott Parish, it added up to a great afternoon for the Dee.
St Johnstone 4-4-1-1
Foster, Shaughnessy, Anderson, Tanser (Easton at half time)
Wotherspoon, Davidson, Alston (MacLean 82), O’Halloran
Johnstone (Gordon at half time)
Unused subs: Mannus (gk), Millar, McClean, Hendry.
Booked: Davidson (foul on Leitch-Smith), Johnstone (foul on Kamara), Easton (foul on Kerr), Gordon (foul on Etxabeguren).
Sent off: Foster (foul on McGowan).
Dundee FC 4-3-1-2
Kerr (c), Hendry, Waddell (Etxabeguren 60), Aurtenetxe
O’Hara, Kamara, McGowan
Allan (El Bakhtaoui 70)
Leitch-Smith (Henvey 90+2), Haber
Unused subs: Ferrie (gk), Holt, Curran, Lambert.
Goals: Haber (3), Leitch-Smith (90+1).
Booked: Waddell (foul on Alston), Leitch-Smith (goal celebration).
Attendance: 4,769 (1,784 Dees).
Referee: Willie Collum. Assistants: Graeme Stewart, Andrew McWilliam. Fourth official: David Lowe.
Report: James Christie.