Dundee claimed their first league win of the season with an excellent, spirited win against Hearts at the Kilmac Stadium. Luke McCowan scored the only goal with a superb 30 yard chip midway through the second half. The Dark Blues had the edge in the first half against an off form Jam Tarts team. Hearts reorganised at half time and stepped up the pace, but Dundee rose to the challenge, defended superbly and held off the visitors after McCowan’s wonderful winner.
The Dee made three changes to the team that started the game at St Mirren. Cammy Kerr, Fin Robertson and Scott Tiffoney replaced Lee Ashcroft, Lyall Cameron and Josh Mulligan as the formation changed to 4-3-3. New signing Mo Sylla and Ricki Lamie were on the bench, and Charlie Reilly made his first appearance in a match squad.
The first half was interesting, and often entertaining, but there was a surprising lack of penalty box action. The stats suggested that Hearts were dominating, with their possession percentage in the high 60s. The truth is that the Jam Tarts were ponderous on the ball. Their moves were slow and cautious, too often edging sideways to nowhere.
Dundee had less of the ball because they were trying to work faster attacks, getting players quickly into space before they could be closed down. Occasionally it almost worked, with Luke McCowan and Scott Tiffoney always lively.
Smart play by Malachi Boateng wide in the Hearts penalty area gave him space to cross low, but neither Zach Robinson nor Owen Beck could get their shots away under pressure.
Hearts had a few corners, from one of which Frankie Kent headed over the bar. Apart from that Dundee handled their attacks competently.
Fin Robertson managed the first shot on target, with a dipping volley off as the ball dropped from his chest from 18 yards but Zander Clark saved comfortably.
After half an hour the Dark Blues fleetingly thought they had taken the lead. Tiffoney beat two men running in from the left. His low cross broke to Jordan McGhee whose shot deflected in off Zach Robinson right in front of Clark. The officials did not appear to have spotted an offside infringement, but after a brief delay the goal was ruled out by VAR.
Tiffoney shot narrowly wide from 18 yards as Dundee continued to look the more dangerous team while Hearts racked up the possession stats by dithering on the ball.
It was no surprise that Hearts made drastic changes at half time. Nat Atkinson, Cammy Devlin and Liam Boyce replaced Odel Offiah, Toby Sibbick and Yutaro Oda while Alex Lowrie moved from a number 10 role to the left. The impact was immediate. The Jam Tarts played with far more pace and energy and their combination play improved dramatically.
Boyce made a clever run to the byline and his cutback was deflected across goal and past the far post. In Hearts’ next attack Lowrie got the better of Cammy Kerr and crossed to the far post where Kenneth Vargas sent in a weak header that allowed Owen Beck time to clear. Trevor Carson then had to make a good save, turning Stephen Kingsley’s 25 yard free kick over the bar.
Lowrie was outstanding for the first 15 minutes of the half and threatened the Dee defence every time he got the ball. He slipped a nicely judged pass into space for Lawrence Shankland to shoot, but the angle was tight and Carson saved.
As the half wore on Lowrie’s threat lessened, and much of the credit goes to Cammy Kerr for keeping his head and gradually neutralising a very talented young player.
After that tricky quarter of an hour Dundee emerged from their defensive shell and started to take advantage of extra space Hearts were leaving with all their attacking.
McGhee took the ball off Shankland and started a promising attack, which ended with a wild cross by Robinson. However, the winning goal arrived a couple of minutes later.
After 63 minutes Hearts got into a fankle taking a free kick outside their penalty area. Luke McCowan nipped onto a loose pass. He could have run on, or passed to Scott Tiffoney. Instead he followed the wise advice of the legendary Bill Shankly; “if you don’t know what to do next, just stick the ball in the net and we can evaluate the other options later”.
So McCOWAN calmly sent an exquisite chip over the helpless Clark and under the bar from 30 yards. It was a perfect way to win a game – and how the Dark Blue support enjoyed it!
With a lead to defend Dundee rolled their sleeves up and set about earning their win with a marvellous half hour of spirited, well organised defending and occasional dangerous attacks. Above all the Dark Blues’ performance featured hard graft and determination.
Shortly after the goal Lyall Cameron came on for Scott Tiffoney and was soon involved intelligently with play supporting Dundee’s attacks. Mo Sylla replaced Fin Robertson for the last 20 minutes and impressed the support with some energetic tackling and forceful runs.
Hearts continued to play with a higher tempo than they had offered in the first half, but after the winning goal they struggled to get through Dundee. The Dee defence was superb and it was Dundee who came closest to scoring again.
McCowan flighted over a tempting cross from the left. Robinson peeled away from Kingsley and his close range header was kept out by a brilliant reflex save by Clark.
At the other end Boyce shot from a difficult angle after nipping into space to take Devlin’s pass but Carson saved comfortably.
In injury time there was a scare when a penalty box scramble resulted in Dark Blue bodies hurling themselves in the way of every shot. When the ball was hoofed high, long and far from the Dundee goal the roar from the home support almost matched the goal.
This was hardly one of the all time classics, but it was a vital win and very satisfying indeed for the fans. It feels so important to secure that first win of the season, and to do it with a clean sheet against a good team like Hearts is all the more pleasing. Nobody could possibly complain about the players’ attitude and workrate today. Every Dee gave everything they had for the full match. The shape and teamwork was excellent and there were many fine performances throughout the team.
However, the defence, in particular, should take the plaudits. By the end Hearts were reduced to launching the ball optimistically into the penalty area and the Dee repelled them every time – and how the Dees in the stands loved it!
Dundee FC 4-3-3
Kerr, McGhee, Shaughnessy, Beck
Robertson (Sylla 76), Boateng, McCowan
Robinson, Bakayoko, Tiffoney (Cameron 66)
Unused substitutes: Legzdins (gk), Lamie, Ashcroft, Mulligan, Reilly, Rudden, Anderson, Sylla.
Goal: McCowan (63).
Booked: Beck (foul on Denhom).
Offiah (Atkinson at half time), Kent, Rowles, Kingsley
Denholm (Grant 69), Sibbick (Devlin at half time)
Oda (Boyce at half time), Lowry, Vargas (Tagawa 69)
Unused subs: McGovern (gk), Halliday, Forrest, Tait.
Booked: Oda (foul on McCowan).
Officials: Alan Muir. Assistants: John McCrossan, Stuart Stevenson: Fourth Official: Scott Lambie. VAR: Don Robertson. VAR Assistant: Craig Ferguson.
Report: James Christie.