Dundee kept their fine run of form going by beating Championship leaders Hearts 3-1 at the Kilmac Stadium. The Dark Blues dominated the first half and took a 2-0 lead with goals from Jordan McGhee and Danny Mullen. Hearts fought back strongly after half time and Andrew Irving pulled a goal back. However, Jonathan Afolabi came off the bench to score the decisive third goal from the penalty spot.
The Dark Blues made only one change to the starting eleven after the win over Alloa. Danny Mullen replaced Declan McDaid. Hearts had three changes from the team that beat Arbroath. Jamie Brandon, Stephen Kingsley and Jamie Walker came in for Michael Smith, Andrew Irving and Liam Boyce.
Right from the start the Dark Blues hounded Hearts, making it impossible for the league leaders to settle. Shaun Byrne went too far with a first minute booking for clattering Steven Naismith, but Dundee’s chasing and pressing ensured that they were well on top.
Hearts’ veteran keeper Craig Gordon had to make two saves in the opening 10 minutes. He beat away Charlie Adam’s free kick from 25 yards and surpassed that when Jordan McGhee’s pass split the Hearts defence, sending Danny Mullen clear. The former Scotland international saved superbly to turn Mullen’s shot away for a corner.
Gordon was left helpless when Dundee worked a prepared move after 14 minutes. Charlie Adam’s cross from the left had the pace and bend to take out Hearts’ defence and Jordan McGHEE timed his run precisely to beat the offside line and smash a powerful header past Gordon from 10 yards. It was exactly what the dominant Dark Blues deserved.
Dundee remained on top and kept threatening to extend their lead. Osman Sow clipped a low cross from Christie Elliott past the near post. Nine minutes from half time the second goal arrived. Again it was a wonderful cross by Charlie Adam, finished with a powerful header. Adam showed cheeky skill on the left to nutmeg Haring on the left wing. As Dees flooded into the penalty area Adam picked out Danny MULLEN with the cross and the header was too strong for Gordon, who got a hand to the ball but couldn’t keep it from reaching the net.
The Jam Tarts were struggling in open play, but offered more threat at set pieces. Hearts only effort on target in the first half came from the second ball played in following a free kick. Haring got on the end of Lee’s cross, but Liam Fontaine blocked the header with Jack Hamilton covering behind him.
Hearts replaced Haring with Andrew Irving at half time. The substitute had an immediate impact as the Jam Tarts were more aggressive and creative in midfield, taking the game to Dundee for the first time. IRVING brought Hearts back into the game with a goal after 56 minutes. His free kick from the right was worthy of Charlie Adam himself, curling into the goalmouth at speed. Hamilton was left helpless as he had to wait to see if any of the onrushing bodies would make contact. Nobody did, and there was no time for the goalie to react before the ball bent inside the far post.
Hearts took heart from the goal and went on to take control. The next 10 minutes were deeply uncomfortable for the Dee as they were pushed back constantly, unable to hold onto the ball up the pitch.
There was a glimmer of hope for the Dark Blues when a quick pass from Sow almost sent Mullen clear, but Brandon raced back quickly to cover before the Dee striker could shoot. Another fine crossfield pass by Adam allowed McGowan to set up Sow, who shot well over the crossbar.
The Dee were starting to look more composed and comfortable, but Hearts still had the edge. Dundee were hugely relieved when the Jam Tarts passed up two good chances. Naismith forced his way clear after a neat passing move through the middle but Jack Hamilton spread himself superbly to save. Kingsley then missed an excellent chance heading Walker’s several feet over the crossbar.
It was a vital miss and Hearts didn’t get another chance before Dundee clinched the win from the penalty spot after 84 minutes. Christophe Berra pulled Lee Ashcroft down as a free kick was coming into the penalty area. Jonathan AFOLABI had replaced Danny Mullen, and took a flawless penalty for the Dee’s third goal.
In the last minute of injury time Hamilton completed an excellent display in goal when he somehow turned Henderson’s close range shot over the bar.
When the Dark Blues lost at Tynecastle at the start of the season they gave Hearts too much space and fell victims to relentless pressing. It was very different tonight as the Dee were in Hearts’ faces from the start and were fully worth their two goal lead at half time. Dundee were stronger and more creative in midfield and always dangerous in the final third. Much of the second half was a struggle, but the Dark Blues dug in and defended their lead well. Jack Hamilton has taken plenty of criticism from the Dee support, but he put in a match-winning performance tonight.
Remarkably this was the first time since 1977/78 that Dundee have scored at least three times in each of four consecutive games. It was also on the 2nd of January, back in 1978 when the Dee managed that feat, back in the day of Billy Pirie’s goalscoring heroics.
This was a big win for the Dee. They have put their slow start to the season behind them and are gelling as a team, showing confidence, consistency and, above all, goal threat. The challenge is to build on this now.
Dundee FC 4-3-3
Elliott, Fontaine, Ashcroft, Marshall
McGhee, Byrne, Adam (c) (Robertson 76)
Mullen (Afolabi 69), Sow (Kerr 81), McGowan
Unused subs: Ferrie (gk), Forster, McDaid, Anderson.
Goals: McGhee (14), Mullen (36), Afolabi (84 pen).
Booked: Byrne (foul on Naismith), Adam (foul on Kingsley).
Heart of Midlothian 4-4-2
Brandon, Halkett, Berra, Kingsley
Lee, Haring (Irving at half time), Halliday, Walker
Naismith, Wighton (Henderson 53)
Unused subs: Stewart (gk), Roberts, Frear, Moore, Popescu.
Goal: Irving (56).
Booked: Irving (foul on Byrne).
Referee: Don Robertson. Assistants: Calum Spence, Colin McAlpine. Fourth Official: David Lowe.
Report: James Christie.